Did Jefferson eat the same things as your toddler? Should you?
We chanced to take a holiday to Monticello recently, and there, in the dining room, I became privy to some horrible facts about Thomas Jefferson’s dietary habits. The tour guide, playfully courting the children, asked us to guess our third president’s favorite food: macaroni and cheese. What did he love for dessert? Ice cream. Good Lord, I thought, this man might as well have eaten those Kids Cuisines with the penguin on the box! I even remembered reading once that the first American references to a junk food staple are letters about when Jefferson served a dinner of “potatoes cooked in the French way.” “See?” I said to Catie, “Americans have always eaten like this. For shame.”
Disillusioned, we hied off to one of those olde timey general stores we’d seen comin’ in. I bought some beer with Benjamin Franklin on it, and lo and behold what did we find but hush puppy mix? Hush puppies! How we’d dreamed of them! Hush puppies at Cook Out, with its drive-thru only setup, eating in the car greasy hamburgers, shakes and especially hush puppies, biblical verses on the bag. We loved it so much that we limited ourselves to going one time every eight weeks, but how we missed it in the interim!
‘Americans have been eating unhealthy foods for a long time,’ one of us said. ‘An’ Jefferson woulda ate some,’ said the other. ‘Let’s get this hush puppy mix and make a bunch of hush puppies for dinner.’
Had we researched more, we would have found that Jefferson prided himself on his diet. Later, I read that the menu that he created for the University of Virginia was balanced and almost meatless. Fruits and vegetables were the staples of his daily diet, he didn’t smoke, and he took two hours of exercise per day. When the facts came to me, all that was left were the memories of that craven desire to devour hush puppies.
We meant to save some of the batter for later, but I accidentally poured it all in, so 15 hush puppies were made and we saved a little bit of the dough out of morbidity. I bought some catfish and battered it (beer, no doubt), but we didn’t even taste the fish. It was all hush puppies, seven and a half per person, fried in oil, hot, and served with a wince. Hush puppies, more sweet than the ones at Cook Out- more like those marshmellow Easter chicks, really. Maybe we made them wrong? We split another four for breakfast. Those were better, and but by that time, we didn’t want to even look at another hush puppy again.
If we had known then about Jefferson what we know now, we wouldn’t have had our little accident- but at least it got us off Cook Out. Hard to imagine, now, sitting in the rain, windshield wipers blasting back and forth, eating Cook Out in the car, picking out the crumbs of hush puppies from the bottom of the bible verse bag, hearing Jefferson in the passenger seat, saying, “Has some one been eating my potatoes cooked in the French way?”