Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

turkey for roasting

Image from The Frugal Housewife, 1796

Every November,  scores of American families sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition followed for almost 400 years in the New World. The main dish of this celebratory feast is a turkey, stuffed and roasted to perfection.

In the 18th century, The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook, a cookery book written by Susannah Carter and published first in England and then in Philadelphia in 1796, must have influenced large numbers of colonial cooks, since Mrs. Carter’s books were hugely popular. Recipes back then were not given the precise directions modern cooks are accustomed to, but one can imagine that  Mrs. Carter’s contemporaries would have no trouble following her specifications.

roast turkey-frugal housewife

American colonialists most likely used the following Carter recipe, when chestnut trees were abundant in the east and before a fungal blight decimated them. Chestnuts were used in the stuffing, as well as the gravy.

turkey with chestnuts

Dishes accompanying the turkey included fruits and vegetables plentiful in the new world – sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, turnips, cabbage, tomatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, current jelly, pumpkin and peach pies, stewed apples, and more, such as fowl or fish, or anything seasonal that was at hand.

Photo of a slice of pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream. Image © Vic Sanborn.

My memory of a hot slice of pumpkin pie and a dollop of cold vanilla ice cream will always be tied to Thanksgiving.  Ices have had a long history in Europe and the New World Thomas Jefferson recorded his recipe for vanilla ice cream by hand. It is well known that he traveled to France, where ice cream recipes appeared in cookery books since the 17th century. While Jefferson did not introduce ice cream to the U.S. (it was consumed in England throughout the Georgian period), he helped to popularize the dessert by serving it during his presidency. (Ice Cream, an article courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, downloaded 11/28/2019 at https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/ice-cream)

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe
(Recipe translation from the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia)

2. bottles of good cream.
6. yolks of eggs.
1/2 lb. sugar

mix the yolks & sugar
put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla.
when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
stir it well.
put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it’s sticking to the casserole.



when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.
put it in the Sabottiere14
then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
put salt on the coverlid of the Sabotiere & cover the whole with ice.
leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabotiere.
shut it & replace it in the ice
open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
leave it there to the moment of serving it.
to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.15

While at Godmersham (Edward Austen Knight’s estate), Jane Austen wrote:

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy. 

I can’t help but think that the elegance and ease she experienced must have been similar to the scene below, where a side table is set to serve ices and wine to an assembled group. Our family had a lovely time together. We wish the same good time for all.


Georgian ices as served in early 19th c. America. Image © Vic Sanborn: Hampton Mansion, MD.

Top 14 images of Georgian ices in Google search.

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This blog’s posts tagged Georgian Ices and ice cream

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Jefferson's neat notations in the margin of "Architecture de Palladio. Image @Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections

Most of us have written in the margins of books, especially in our own textbooks when cramming for an exam or writing a paper, but how many of us write notes in expensive hardcovers that we treasure? These days writing inside books is heavily discouraged and frowned upon, but it was once a common practice, one that has pleased many a historian and bibliophile. Imagine coming across a dusty old book at a yard sale and finding the notes and scribblings of a famous person inside of it. Imagine the joy you would feel to come across such a connection!

Sir Isaac Newton's marginalia

Marginalia, or the practice of writing in books, has a rich literary tradition. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s friends lent their books to him on purpose hoping that he would write along their margins. Chances were that he did, for he was a prolific margin writer. Mark Twain often made comments, giving his opinions or hotly debating with the book’s author.  Other practitioners of margin writing were William Blake, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Jefferson. Even Jane Austen joined this select group, scribbling in her copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s book about her favorite poet, William Cowper (pronounced Cooper.)

Mark Twain's annotation of his publication of Huckleberry Fin. Image @New York Times

In Persuasions Online, Jane Austen scholar Edith Lank writes about her copy of the two-volume Lord Barbourne edition of Jane Austen’s letters, which she found at a sale. This books is filled with

detailed genealogies, marginal comments, explanations and family gossip…The first were Fanny Caroline Lefroy and her sister Mrs. Louisa Lefroy Bellas, both daughters of Jane Austen’s neice (sic) Anna Austen Lefroy. The sisters annotated the book in careful nineteenth-century script and printing.” – List of Annotations in the Bellas Copy of Lord Brabourne’s Letters of Jane Austen

Thomas Jefferson’s scribblings were as elegant and refined as his mind. He sold his book collection to the Library of Congress in 1815, and kept a personal collection of books that he built upon until his death. Those books revealed that he often corrected typographical errors.

Thomas Jefferson's neat handwriting in Greek on a note inside his book.

Marginal scribblings provided a window into the minds of its writers, for they offered an insight into what they thought and revealed personal aspects of their characters. My scribblings in college texts were boring, for they merely summarized the most important points I needed to recall. I rarely left a personal thought in the margins or wrote inside my own books, although I dog eared favorite passages or left scraps of paper between pages that I wanted to reread.

Wild scribblings

The author of an article in the New York Times feared that the advent of eBooks would end the art of marginalia, but the following passage partially assuages that fear. I say partially because part of the charm of marginalia is to see the author’s hand and his/her choice of writing implement, which is something Kindle does not yet offer (who knows what the future will hold?):

Annotations in a Kindle

When I received a Kindle as a gift earlier this year, my habits of marginalia soared to new heights. It became extremely easy to highlight passages and add notes, which are then situated in the text I’m reading but also pulled together into my Kindle account on Amazon where I can, for instance, share them with students in a course, fellow members of a book discussion group, family, and friends…even, in theory, with enemies. I’ll rebut and rebuke them with my rapier marginalia. It’s even possible to add a marginal note on a Kindle and then tweet it.-The margins of MarginaliaBooks From Thomas Jefferson’s Personal Library Rediscovered

Do you write inside books? What’s your opinion about about this literary tradition? And do you think Kindle will rekindle it?

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