In Episode 09 we discuss how the favorite food of Leslie Knope built America. The legendary history of waffles in America usually starts with Jefferson, but we explore the real back story and how Thomas Jefferson owes most of his culinary reputation to a slave named James Hemings (read more about him here). Aimee and Kate continue to not shut up about Hamilton and Melissa laments how not funny this episode is.
During the recording of this episode, we made The Bourbon Brunch and gagged our way through it. Break audio is “It’s almost breakfast” from Portlandia Season 8. Outro music is “What’d I Miss” from Hamilton performed by Daveed Diggs.
Listen on the link below, or on your preferred platform. Check out our research notes at the bottom of this post!
This episode, we learned so much from the James Hemings Foundation, so please consider checking them out and supporting them in any way you can.
1 tsp ground cinnamon ½ tsp nutmeg 4 cups water 2 cups Madeira or dry sherry 3 cups water 3 large egg whites, shells reserved 1 cup sugar 3 envelopes granulated gelatin 1 cup cold water
Pare the rind from 2 of the lemons in long pieces with a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife. Juice the lemons and strain into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the rind, spice, and water. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the Madeira or sherry and let it cool.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. Crush the shells and beat them into the whites. Stir this into the wine mixture, return it to medium-low heat, and bring it slowly to a simmer. Meanwhile, wet a large piece of muslin (un-dyed plain cotton fabric), wring it out thoroughly, and line a wire strainer with it. Set this over a bowl that will just hold the strainer near its rim.
When the egg has solidified and floated to the top, push it to one side and check the clarity of the liquid. If it is clear, skim most of the egg away and ladle the liquid into the trainer. Leave it to slowly drip into the bowl. (This takes some time, so be patient and do not stir or agitate it.) The liquid that drips through the strainer should be perfectly clear.
Clean the saucepan and return the clarified liquid to it. Bring it back to a simmer over medium heat, stir in the sugar until dissolved, and simmer until the liquid is clear again. Meanwhile, put the gelatin in a large bowl and stir in the cool water. Let soften for 10 minutes and stir in the hot liquid. Continue stirring until the gelatin is completely dissolved and the liquid is somewhat cooled. To speed up the cooling process, set the bowl in an ice bath and stir constantly until it is cold but not yet beginning to jell.
Pour it into small, stemmed glasses or shallow champagne goblets, cover and chill until set, about 4 hours. Alternatively the jelly may set in a shallow pan, then be broken up with a spoon or knife, and spooned into stemmed glasses
If you’re looking for the perfect patriotic dishes for your 4th of July gathering, consider some of the comfort foods of the founding fathers and mothers of America. Like the presidential candidates of today, these men and women had strange tastes.
Comfort Food: Hoe Cakes
Everyone thinks of cherries when they think of George Washington–likely because of his infamous story of chopping down the cherry tree. Don’t let that anecdote fool you into thinking that cherries were Washington’s go-to comfort food. Instead, he preferred hoe cakes. This cross between corn bread and pancakes was the perfect comfort food for the aging president and his dentures.
Benjamin Franklin wasn’t just a father of America, he was a father of craft cocktails too. His favorite was called Milk Punch. Franklin’s knowledge of booze flowed over into what may be one of America’s first slang dictionaries, “The Drinker’s Dictionary,” making him America’s first food writer as well!
This family recipe was passed down to Martha by way of a cookbook (that still survives to this day!) This simple recipe is essentially a sort of cabbage pie–simple ingredients that likely reminded her of her upbringing.
This ten-dollar-founding-father shared a comfort food with one of our current presidential candidates: coffee. This hot-blooded politician had all sorts of philosophies on the consumption of food (when to eat, how much, etc.) but he was a famous light-weight when it came to booze–which led John Adams to make fun of him even more by calling him a “insolent coxcomb.” When Adams needed some caloric comfort, he turned to a nice cup of joe.
Comfort Food: Hoppin’ John
Dolley Madison was not only a first lady, she was also a first foodie. She served as FLOTUS when her husband took office, but she also helped out widower president Jefferson. Her culinary talents were widely known, and one of her favorite dishes was Hoppin’ John.
As Jon Jay traveled, influencing early American diplomacy abroad, he always brought with him blocks of chocolate. He even wrote home to his dad in 1790, to share that he kept his chocolate close with him, “shaving or grating it into pots of milk.” I think we can all relate to needing a cup of chocolate milk when we’re missing home.
Although Madison’s wife was the real foodie, he liked to mix local cuisine with worldly delicacies. His daily go-to were local oysters harvested just miles form his expansive home, but whenever entertaining important guests, he’d make sure that his favorite vol au vent pastries were on the menu. These puff pastries could be filled with either sweet of savory flavors.
Abigail knew how to take the local ingredients of New England and make them into something magical. A often-baked favorite in her household was Apple Pandowdy, a sweet sort of deconstructed apple pie. It was the perfect way to get you through the cold New England winters.
This early epicurean loved French foods and even commanded his enslaved cook to travel with him to learn the ways of French cooking. His go-to comfort food was warm crème brulee topped with ice cream, something he fell in love with during his time in France working to gain allies for the revolution.
Recipe here for crème brulee Jefferson’s ice cream recipe below.
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton
Comfort Food: Ice Cream
Ice cream was a relatively new food in early American cuisine. Elizabeth was introduced to it by Thomas Jefferson at one of the most important dinner parties in American political history, and she later introduced George and Martha Washington to it.
John Adams preferred New England staples for his day-to-day. In fact, most of his food was as bland as his politics. When Adams really wanted to go wild and celebrate, he’d ask Abigail to fix up some Turtle Soup. He loved it so much that early Americans considered it a Fourth of July staple.