News & Opinion | July 7, 2018 9:00 am

This Is What the Founding Fathers Ate and Drank

They may not have had cookouts like us, but they definitely valued good food and drink.

founding fathers
Illustration of four of the United States Foundign Fathers, from left, John Adams (1735 - 1826), Robert Morris (1734 - 1806), Alexander Hamilton (1757 - 1804), and Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), 1774. (Stock Montage/Getty Images)
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We Americans hold block parties and cookouts to pretty high standards, but it turns out that the Founding Fathers also enjoyed food and drink as much as we do today. Walter Staib, the executive chef at Philadelphia’s City Tavern and host of PBS’ “A Taste of History,” says that the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were some of America’s earliest foodies. The founders were doing the “farm to table” style way before it was cool (it was in fact, necessary). Staib said that since America lacked transportation infrastructure to bring in foods from faraway lands, you ate what was around.

George Washington loved seafood, while Thomas Jefferson loved French fair above all. He is credited with popularizing frites, ice cream, and champagne. He is also credited with creating mac and cheese, but this is false, it was his enslaved chef, James Hemings, who created the popular dish. All the Founding Fathers had a sweet tooth. James Madison loved ice cream, and his wife, Dolley, baked creative cakes. Abigail Adams, John Adam’s wife, would make Apple Pan Dowdy, a pie-meets-cobbler hybrid. John Jay would carry chocolate with him on long journeys.

The Founders were also, unsurprisingly, fans of adult beverages. According to Smithsonian Magazine, colonial Americans drank roughly three times as much as modern Americans, usually in the form of beer, cider, and whiskey. Washington was known for buying drinks for friends, and Jefferson was known for his love of wine. Reverend Michael Alan, who illustrated and helped research the book, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken Historysaid of a night where Washington ordered 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret, and seven full bowls of punch, “he knew how to throw down.”