Image of the week: Testing a historic recipe near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Tasting Thomas Jefferson’s Historic Gumbo Recipe – Images by Kathryn Wagner
The photograph above of an herb bundle was made as part of a series detailing the testing of a historic gumbo recipe which was compared with the classic New Orleans version. Meticulously researched by David “Dr. Nac” Naccari, a visiting Barringer Research Fellow from the Big Easy, this was a fun and informative afternoon spent learning more about historical cuisine.

Interestingly Peter J. Hatch, Director Monticello Gardens and Grounds shares with us:
“Jefferson was a pioneer grower of “tomatas.” Beginning in 1809, he planted this grudgingly accepted vegetable yearly, usually in square X near the midpoint of the garden. Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, and daughters, Virginia and Septimia, left numerous recipes that involved tomatoes, including gumbo soups, cayenne-spiced tomato soup, green tomato pickles, tomato preserves, and tomato omelettes. Tomatoes were purchased in 1806 for Presidential dinners. Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife has seventeen recipes for tomatoes, including gazpacho, gumbo, and catsup. ”

For the comparison ingredients were gathered from the gardens at Monticello, and the produce were of the heirloom variety – so all of the herbs in the bundle above were a  close cousin to what Mr. Jefferson’s cook might have used. Originally called “Okra Soup” it was interesting to taste the more historic version was less spicy, yet more hearty, utilizing lots of rice and tomatoes. The modern, New Orleans version was what we most often think of when referencing gumbo – spicy, meaty and full flavored. Overall the comparison was enlightening to the intracacies of historic American cuisine

View the full photo essay over on my website.

Full recipe below featuring the historic ‘Okra Soup’, courtesy of the publisher and Google Books: