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Thomas Jefferson: A Gourmet in the White House : * History: Our third president was also the First Foodie--if anybody knew from Independence Day, it was the sage of Monticello.

June 27, 1991|EDYTHE PREET | Preet is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

High society was not thrilled when Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801. Though he's now considered among history's most sophisticated characters, his wealthy Federalist opponents at the time condemned his so-called country ways. The President dressed in plain clothes and rode a horse instead of being driven in an elaborate carriage. He abolished the weekly social tea and made it clear that each year there would be only two large receptions--New Year's Day and the Fourth of July.

At state dinners there was never a table plan--"first come, first seated" was the general rule. And President Jefferson could as easily spend an entire evening chatting with a contingent of Indians as with the English ambassador.

But there were two things the gossip mongers could not fault: The President's hospitality was always gracious and the food was excellent.

While serving as minister to France, Jefferson had adopted the habit of conducting business over a good meal. On a trip to Italy he discovered macaroni. It became one of his favorite foods and was often served at state dinners with plenty of Parmesan cheese. In France, Jefferson developed a taste for salamagundi , a cold chicken salad garnished with capers and anchovies. And in France he also became a connoisseur of fine wine, which he regarded as one of the necessities of life.

Jefferson prided himself on eating more vegetables than meat, and fresh garden greens with a simple dressing accompanied every dinner meal. Dessert was often Old Virginia Pound Cake served with Brandied Peaches and French vanilla ice cream.

Many a state dinner began at 3 in the afternoon and lasted well into the night, with guests still seated chatting at the President's socially equal round table. In the new capital city, where there were few diversions, dinner at the White House was a gustatory as well as a political tour de force.

But the biggest celebration of the year in Jefferson's day was the Fourth of July, and the reception in 1803 marking the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory was especially impressive. The Marine band played patriotic hymns on the White House lawn; there were speeches and cheers in honor of the President, the nation and the new territory; fine refreshments were served to all who came by, and President Jefferson shook hands with every guest.

On July 4, 1826, the United States marked the 50th anniversary of its declared independence. All across the country, picnics, parades and public readings of the Declaration of Independence celebrated the nation's birthday. But in his home at Monticello, Jefferson, the man who single-handedly penned the document that did so much to reform the political ethics of the world, passed quietly from this life into the pages of history.

Here are a few Jeffersonian recipes that might make a good Fourth-of-July alternative to the usual barbecue grilling.

CHILLED TOMATO BISQUE

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup minced celery

1/4 cup minced onion

4 cups skinned, seeded and chopped tomatoes

1 cup sour cream or yogurt

Salt, pepper

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add and saute celery and onion until tender. Add tomatoes and simmer 10 minutes. Pour into blender, add sour cream and puree. If too thick add little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill. Makes 4 servings.

SALAMAGUNDI

12 tiny whole onions

4 cups shredded lettuce

1 cup julienne-cut roasted chicken

1 cup seedless grapes, halved

4 hard-cooked eggs, cut in eighths

8 anchovy fillets

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon capers

Cook onions in boiling water 10 minutes until tender. Drain and chill.

At serving time arrange lettuce, chicken, grapes, eggs, anchovies and onions on chilled salad plates. Sprinkle with parsley and capers. Makes 4 servings.

PASTA WITH PEAS, PROSCIUTTO AND PARMESAN CHEESE

6 tablespoons butter

4 shallots, minced

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

1/4 pound prosciutto, cut in thin strips

3 cups shelled fresh peas

Salt, pepper

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 pound cooked pasta

Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add shallots and saute 5 minutes. Stir in whipping cream, basil and prosciutto. Cook until thickened to good coating consistency, about 15 minutes.

Add peas and cook 3 to 4 minutes or just until peas turn bright green. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Pour over hot drained pasta and toss gently. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

OLD VIRGINIA POUND CAKE

4 1/2 cups flour

Dash salt

1 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 pound unsalted butter

1 pound sugar

8 large eggs

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup brandy

Brandied Peaches, or fresh fruit in season

French vanilla ice cream

Sift flour with salt, mace and nutmeg 4 times (to add air and make cake lighter).

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at time, beating well after each addition. Stir in lemon zest and brandy. Gradually add sifted flour, mixing well.

Pour batter into 2 greased 9x5-inch loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until cake tester inserted in center comes out dry. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn onto wire racks to cool. Pound cake is best served following day. Slice and serve with Brandied Peaches and French vanilla ice cream on side. Makes 2 loaves.

Note: Recipe for French vanilla ice cream on page H33.

Brandied Peaches

1 quart peeled and sliced peaches

1 cup sugar

1 cup brandy

Layer peaches and sugar in sterilized 1-quart jar until jar is about 3/4 full. Add brandy and seal.

Turn jar upside down every day for 1 week to distribute and dissolve sugar. Let stand about 3 months before using, turning at least once weekly to keep syrup balanced. Makes 1 quart.

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