The Founding Foodies Book Review

How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine by Dave Dewitt

The Founding Foodies

Despite its sub-title, The Founding Foodies is about much more than Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin, although their collective influence on American cuisine cannot be underestimated. The Founding Foodies starts with the earliest Americans, Capt. John Smith of Jamestown and the Pilgrims. Seems neither group was especially experienced in finding, raising, or preparing their own food. The new land must have been a rather rude awakening for them. They depended on the natives to get them through the winter, giving birth to both the first Thanksgiving and the Pocahontas legends. Thankfully the local natives, probably out of frustration, taught our intrepid forbearers to fish and grow their own food. Then, as today, some people found this grand agricultural experiment more fascinating than others. Which brings us to our three founding fathers who were also what we would today describe as foodies.

The author, Mr. Dewitt, does an excellent job portraying the differences between Washington and Jefferson’s foodie style and Franklin’s interest in food. Washington and Jefferson both owned thousands of acres of farm and field in the relatively bountiful Virginia region. As a result they were more able to experiment with growing different plants and animals both. Washington’s Mount Vernon in particular was basically a self-sufficient unit, growing grains, vegetables, animals for meat but also a distillery.

Jefferson and Franklin were both world travelers and admired and enjoyed French foods and wines in particular. Jefferson tried to re-create this cuisine back home in Virginia with varying degrees of success. Franklin basically enjoyed all good things, food included.

Along the way we touch on New England’s cod industry, the origins of Virginia ham, the triangle trade and why rum became the drink of American, and a recipe for terrapin soup. We meet not only our three founding foodies, but also several of their contemporaries like John Adams, Benjamin Rush, James Hemmings and Lafayette. The book is full of interesting sidebars like Jefferson’s take on the virtues of maple sugaring, Virginia tavern fare, and an explanation of Virginia’s Pepper-Pot heritage.

The final chapter includes several historical recipes like codfish cakes appetizer, hot potato salad and New Orleans dirty rice. There is also an excellent section of recommended historical sites and restaurants and an in-depth bibliography.

Mr. Dewitt is a prolific writer who has written numerous books, most of them about his beloved chili peppers. I personally have used his Hot, Spicy and Meatless cookbook for years and it is one of my favorites. His writing style is friendly and approachable. I read The Founding Foodies in just a few days. Although I probably won’t be making any of the recipes anytime soon, I loved learning more about how we came to eat our traditional foods.

If you are interested in food, history, food history, food culture and home gardening or agriculture, pick yourself up a copy of The Founding Foodies. It will be a wonderful addition to your library. You can find out more about Mr. Dewitt and his books on his site Dave Dewitt.

by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

May 2, 2015

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