Thursday, October 28, 2010

The rise and fall of French cuisine in America/3

(For the previous part of the series, click here).

From 1785 to 1789 Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris, representing the new American State with the French authorities. During this period he fell in love with French food. He wasn't the only one: Benjamin Franklin - who was in France in the same period - also loved eating and cooking French food. But apparently Jefferson went beyond, and started to collect recipes every time he had a chance to try and replicate French dishes at home.

If collecting recipes seems like a pretty normal thing by today's foodies standards, you need to remember that we are at the end of the XVIII century: there aren't a lot of cooking books around, especially in America. If I got this right, the first French cuisine cooking book published in English in America is the 1832 Domestic French Cookery. But this is a whole 50 years after Thomas Jefferson...

When Jefferson comes back to the US and becomes President, his receptions and dinners become something to remember. Jefferson - a pure Southern gentleman who loved food and entertaining - not only brings to the White House a French cook, but he also brings back tools from Europe that will become 100% American in a couple of centuries: he brings back a waffle iron, for instance. He is also the first to serve hand-made macaroni with a a cheese sauce: yes, apparently this is the first mac&cheese in American history...His love for food was not limited to French cuisine though: when he was president he had an enormous vegetable garden where he liked to work directly, for example.

Jefferson was not isolated in his love of French food. He may have been a bit more obsessed than others, but by the time he becomes President, there are already many French cooks that set up shop in Washington. Many of them were initially brought to America by politicians who wanted to be able to entertain their guests. Some, though, started to come to the States on their own, after the French revolution (1789).

The interesting thing to notice is that most of these new French cooks take African American servants to help them in the kitchen. This is very important, because it helps explain why French cuisine spread so much in the African American community.

In the meantime, even before Jefferson went to Paris, a large group of French speaking colonists living in Canada refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown, and were expelled (1755). They settled in the Lagoons around New Orleans...Tomorrow we will see what they did to create the cajun cuisine, one of the most distinguished American regional cuisines.

(Click here for the fourth part of the series).

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