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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a…

Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James… (edition 2012)

by Thomas J. Craughwell

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9827123,235 (3.22)12
Title:Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
Authors:Thomas J. Craughwell
Info:Quirk Books (2012), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell

  1. 00
    Passions : The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson by James M. Gabler (sgump)
    sgump: Here you'll find more details about Thomas Jefferson's reactions to the food and wine he partook in Europe in the late 1780s.

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. The story of how, in America, race and slavery are intertwined with cuisine, is fascinating and deserves in-depth exploration. Unfortunately, the author seemed mostly interested in Jefferson and French cuisine, and the story of James Hemings was stuck on as a necessary side note. Admittedly, the information about Hemings is slight, so the author may have felt limited in his ability to say more. But he pads the story with extended information about the sights, sounds and flavors of France of the day, about Jefferson’s family, about Jefferson’s interest in plants. If he had given equal context to African-American contributions to the cuisine of the U.S., or extended the discussion forward with information about how freed slave cooks built enterprises around their food, the book would have been much more interesting and enlightening. As it was, the author seemed rather uncomfortable with the aspects of slave owning that cast his beloved Jefferson in a bad light. At one point he notes that sexual relations between slave owners and slaves may be shocking to us today, “but” they were common at the time. I would think an “and” would be more appropriate to that explanation. He also refers to the relationship between Sally Hemings and Jefferson as an “affair,” not the word most would use to describe a relationship in which the power laid all on one side. The author’s seeming discomfort or lack of interest in the complexities of this story left the book feeling lightweight, like a heavily padded magazine article. ( )
  waitingtoderail | Oct 16, 2013 |
I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed - I think it may have had a lot to do with the title. James Hemings got less than a chapter's worth of discussion in total, and much of that was conjecture. I understand the difficulty of constructing a narrative for a slave in this time period, but that's what I expected to read based on the title, the back cover, and the book jacket. If the title had been, say, "Jefferson's Palate: How a Founding Father's Appetites Introduced French Cuisine to America" I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

I also found odd the fact that there was a resources/appendix section at the end of the book that was in narrative format. It didn't include any *actual* resources. That section (which contained some interesting information) could easily have been added to the body of the book, and just the actual notes section left at the end. ( )
  liz.mabry | Sep 11, 2013 |
I bought this book because it looked like it might be a light, fun foodie read embedded in a little history. It turned out to not be quite the foodie extravaganza I thought it would, though it was a short, fast read with more non-food related history than I thought it would. Now mind you, I love the history, but it's not how the cover of the book sells itself which may be deceptive to others who pick it up. In general the book just meanders off on sidetracks from food on a regular basis and I wasn't feeling like it was always relevant to the subject of the book.

The book opens with some background on Jefferson, his fellow revolutionaries, and the culture and times surrounding the development of French Cuisine. There is also a short bit about how the French dealt with slavery, especially slaves brought from other countries. France did not allow slavery and did have laws that would allow any slave brought to the country to demand their freedom. This may be what caused Jefferson to make the bargain with James Hemmings for his freedom if he taught what he learned of French cooking to another slave when they returned home.

The book proceeds to describe some of Jefferson's wanderings through the French country side and the North of Italy, again, some of it food related, some of it not. The most interesting part was regarding the eventual smuggling of bags of Lombardy rice back to the US by Mr Jefferson himself, a crime that would have meant the death penalty if caught. From there it jumps in some of the coming revolution in France and the politics behind it, much of which had nothing to do with food.

All in all, I was a bit disappointed that there was not more description of the French Cuisine at the time and specifically some of the dishes James Hemmings may have learned; there were a few mentions of what he may have served at the dining table of Mr. Jefferson, but not as much as you'd think for the title of this book. Probably worth a read in any case as it will not take much time to get through it, and there are a few tidbits worth learning about. ( )
  speljamr | Jul 27, 2013 |
An entertaining mix of history and food, most of this book is spent on the time Thomas Jefferson was in Paris, along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as an ambassador of sorts for the newly formed United States. Jefferson took along his slave James Hemings--brother to Sally Hemings who joined them later--so Hemings could study the arts of fine cooking with some of France's most renown chefs. Readers learn not just what politicians and ordinary citizens in France and America were doing--what those people ate and how that food was cooked is also part of the story. It’s an interesting treatment of a fascinating, transitional time when the United States had just finished its revolution and France was about to have one. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Jul 21, 2013 |
The enlightening story of Thomas Jefferson and James Hemings as they bring French cuisine first to the American palate. Of course, there is a lot more than the introduction of French Fries and Macaroni; Craughwell's tale of culinary adventure tells us a lot about the culture's of the time, the introduction of Britain's former colonies to an international stage, the politics of national taste, and race relations in France and Monticello. ( )
  EricFitz08 | Apr 27, 2013 |
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In 1784, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Paris with one of his slaves, nineteen-year-old James Hemings. The particular purpose for which they traveled to Paris-- to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James's cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.--Dust jacket.… (more)

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