In honor of Fourth of July, let’s take a look back at our founding fathers’ favorite foods. Impossible to prepare, you say? Challenge accepted!
Picture this. It’s 1783, the Revolutionary War is over, and the colonies are officially independent. From New York to Philadelphia to Boston to Baltimore, the streets are filled with people going crazy over this epic feat. It’s an awesome image to reflect on every time 4th of July rolls around.
Now, here are some questions we bet you never considered. What did our founding fathers eat? In the kitchen, what was Martha Washington working with? If he’s not eating a Philly cheesesteak, then what’s Franklin munching on? And what exactly do historians mean when they call Jefferson ‘the first epicurean president’?
Our founding ‘foodie’ fathers
Presidential facts are endlessly interesting, especially from a culinary angle. Let’s break down what meals were enjoyed by our beloved revolutionaries. Considering available crops, limited imports and lack of kitchen gadgetry, these men and women had to get creative.
For your upcoming Independence Day celebration, take a little inspiration and consider whipping up a modern-day take on these early American favorites. We’ve got some historical tidbits mixed up with some awesome recipes from today’s leading chefs.
3 Fabulous Meals Eaten by the Founding Fathers
Madison’s Virginia Ham & Oysters
Although seafood has always been a staple along the Eastern Seaboard, it’s important to remember that the colonists didn’t have a supermarket on every corner. If they were enjoying a delicacy like oysters, they were likely plucked straight from the Potomac. Luckily, unlike other sea creatures, oysters were relatively easy to keep fresh.
Enjoyed by presidents like James Madison, the popular dish of ‘Virginia Ham and Oysters’ is exactly what it sounds like. The combination goes quite well together despite your initial gut reaction and is traditionally served with some kind of cream sauce. Revolutionaries likely raised their own pigs on the farm, but we’ll keep it simple with a stress-free recipe from Bobby Flay.
Instead of shucking and eating them raw on the ½, try making some scrumptious broiled oysters with celery cream and Virginia ham. It’s the perfect finger food to get your guests independence-excited.
Photo: Oyster Obsession
According to Mount Vernon’s official website, our 1st president “enjoyed a bounteous table at his home.” He and Martha often entertained guests with meals of fish, mutton, freshly brewed beer, cider and more.
But wait a second—didn’t Washington wear dentures? History tells us that many of our early leaders had trouble with their teeth, which makes sense given the lack of modern dentistry. So while the president himself may have had access to more foods than the common folk, he was still known to prefer soft, mushy food, if only for ease of consumption.
One of Washington’s favorites was the Southern hoecake, a sort of mash-up between pancakes and cornbread. Cornmeal batter was originally baked on the blade of a hoe, hence the name. Today, the recipe is amazing smothered in maple butter or drizzled with sweet honey.
Queen of the kitchen, Martha Stewart, has a ridiculously simple hoecakes recipe you’d be crazy not to try. By the way—we’re more than two centuries removed from the Revolution, so feel free to skip the hoe and use your cast iron skillet.
Photo: Martha Stewart
Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream
As the resident ‘foodie’ of the White House, Thomas Jefferson is known for multiple culinary achievements. Thanks to his diplomatic work in France, he became thoroughly engrossed in the sophisticated cuisine of the country. From rich sauces and lush custards to crème brulee and fine imported wines, Jefferson was quite the epicure.
He is also remembered for some pretty major contributions to American farming, introducing rice and tomato crops, tofu, among other popular foods. But despite these contemporary staples, perhaps we should celebrate Jefferson for another more pressing gift he bestowed upon the republic. That is, the ultimate frozen treat—ice cream.
Okay, so Jefferson didn’t exactly invent this delectable dream of a dessert. However, he is credited as the first early American to pen a recipe for publication. So without Tom’s indulgent taste, ice cream may have never been popularized in the United States.
Luckily, the Monticello estate has preserved Jefferson’s family recipes, one of which is now available from Taste of Home. Perfect for kids and adults alike, this presidential ice cream recipe is surprisingly simple, but may call for a few substitutions. If you have no vanilla beans lying around, feel free to use your trusted vanilla extract.
Photo: Taste Of Home
BONUS Recipe: Founder’s Fizz
How could you celebrate the 4th of July without an ice cold adult beverage? Although the founding fathers brewed their own beers and ciders at home, we do NOT recommend. Instead, let’s take some inspiration from the city of Washington D.C. and Hamilton the musical with the Founder’s Fizz.
A traditional take on the Gin Rickey, the cocktail contains craft gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water. Politicians loved guzzling these refreshers down in popular D.C. bars as early as the 1880s, so it’s certainly one for the history books.
Feeling revolutionary? Try out other founding father inspired recipes for your upcoming Independence Day celebration!