Monticello (Jefferson estate)
The Founding Foodies, by Dave DeWitt, is an easy-going chat on matters historic and gastronomic in the Old Dominion and beyond. DeWitt dismisses some food writers’ contentions that colonial food was poor stuff. Having attended Mr. Jefferson’s university and being thus familiar with the third president’s many accomplishments, he knew that this common opinion was surely an overgeneralization. Jefferson, as well as Washington and Franklin, were trend-setters—learned men who easily absorbed and promulgated cultured styles of fashion, philosophy, architecture, and, yes, food, derived European trends, especially their French allies.
Besides these Founding Fathers’ culinary preferences, DeWitt also looks at curious historical periods of Virginia history where food, or lack of same, played a noteworthy role. At Jamestown, the horrors of spoiled ships’ rations and the colonists’ inexperience with hunting and fishing made them very dependent on the native tribes’ shared knowledge. They did learn to hunt and fish which was well since the supply ship was delayed, nearly resulting in John Smith being hanged. Desperate to turn a profit in the days before tobacco, the settlers took up fishing on a grand scale—thousands of pounds of salted cod to England and dried fish to Spain.
“But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
—Letter from retired President Thomas Jefferson to famed portrait painter Charles Willson Peale
Author Peter Hatch has been the Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello since 1977. When Annie Leibovitz came to historic site, she chose to photograph his hands, which have spent decades re-envisioning and recreating Jefferson’s beloved garden. “A Rich Spot of Earth” is a stunning visual and verbal tribute to both the historic gardens and their careful recovery. Follow these links to learn more about Monticello’s historic gardens and its Center for Historic Plants.