07 September 2009

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s is not really so much a cookbook as a history. A history of a dinner whose conversation changed the course of American history; actually the dinner probably preserved American history.

The subtitle of the book is Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening that Changed America.

The three men in question were:

Thomas Jefferson

James Madison

Alexander Hamilton

The five wines were:

A Hermitage, a white wine made in the hills near the village of Tains

A 1786 Bordeaux from the canton of Grave[sic], another white

A Montepulciano from Tuscany

A Chambertin, an exorbitant red

A Champagne, a rare champagne non-mousseux, Jefferson believe the real connoisseurs disdain bubbles, preferring the simple grape to shine without the pretension of effervescence.

The Evening was a dinner party hosted by Jefferson. The purpose of the dinner was to heal a rift in the between Secretary of State Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Hamilton that threatened to destroy the foundation of United States Constitution. Madison was seen as the father of the Constitution and sided with Jefferson who wanted the 13 original colonies to retain much of their powers. Hamilton wanted power concentrated in a Federal entity. The fear was Hamilton was moving the republic toward a monarchy.

I won’t spoil the ending, but, needless to say, dinner was a success.

While Jefferson did not introduce ice cream to America, he was a huge supporter of the cold confection. He often served ice cream in a baked pastry shell, making it appear as though the ice cream was baked into the pastry. Today’s cook probably finds it easier to turn out ice cream than in Jefferson’s day, of course, Jefferson had servants to make the ice cream so it was very easy for him.

Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

2 quarts heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar

1. Bring the cream and vanilla bean to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until smooth and whisk in the sugar. The mixture will be quite thick.
2. Slowly beat about 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolks and gradually stir this egg mixture into the hot cream. Cook, stirring constantly, until lightly thickened, enough to coast the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Strain the custard through a double layer of cheesecloth or a fine strainer, and remover the vanilla bean. Stir until slightly cooked. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour or overnight.
3. Freeze the custard in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacture’s directions until set but still a little soft. Scoop the ice cream, into a three-quart mold, or several smaller molds, running a spatula through the ice cream and tapping the mold firmly to remove any air bubbles. Fill the molds completely. Cover and freeze.
4. To serve the molded ice cream, dip the mold briefly in hot water, or wrap briefly in a towel that has been heated in a clothes dryer. Run a knife around the top edge to separate the ice cream slightly from the mold. Invert the mold over a serving dish and gently lift it from the ice cream.

The next time you entertain the notion of having a dinner party, but think it might be too much trouble, remember Thomas Jefferson. You can just run out to the store for the ice cream. And when you whip up dinner for three, you will never have to worry that one of your guest might want to subvert the constitution and become King.

1 comment:

  1. Just a perfect concoction of history, men, wine and food. I have sent your blog to some of my friends. I am loving it. G


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