Alex Prud’homme wishes he was in the room where it happened

Sometimes, the White House bill is almost inedible. Although Franklin D. Roosevelt was a confirmed connoisseur who enjoyed “curious foods,” such as buffalo tongue, ptarmigan from Greenland and whitefish “fresh from Duluth,” his White House diet was were unusual. This was partly due to the wartime ratio, but mainly to the housekeeper, Mrs. Henrietta Nesbitt, who, under the protection of the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, produced liver oil and beans, amazing casseroles, gelatin salad with marshmallows and more. “economy menu.” After a 1937 dinner chez Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway described the meal as “the worst I ever ate…rainwater soup followed by rubber squab, a good salad dry and a cake that was sent by a lover. A zealous but ignorant person.” Recently, Hem’s third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, ate three sandwiches at the airport before they flew to Washington: “She said the food was always not eaten,” she wrote. “He sits there a lot. Me, I will not live there anymore.”

I was fascinated by the story of Thomas Jefferson’s slave cook, James Hemings, which I pieced together from several books. Jefferson brought James to Paris when he was 18 or 19, where he trained in some of the city’s best kitchens and learned to speak French better than his master. Returning to America with a bag of recipes and money (slavery was not the norm in France, and he was relatively well paid), Hemings followed Jefferson from New York to Philadelphia and the fields of Monticello. in Virginia. There, he prepared some of the most important meals of the day, and in the process helped define American cuisine as we know it – a combination of natural ingredients cooked with ingredients and methods. French, English spices, African herbs and spices, soup of his own creation.

James was also one of Sally Hemings’ brothers. Sally was a maid for Jefferson’s white daughters in Paris, and, DNA testing has proven, the mother of at least six of Jefferson’s children. (Those children were three-quarters white but were held as slaves; four lived to adulthood and were not freed until the end of Jefferson’s life.) It is a confusing genealogy. modern mind, although it was not unheard of at the time.

After James Hemings bought his freedom, he struggled to find his identity: As the first slave who could read and write, he had traveled widely and was a master of cooking of the highest order, was neither entirely Black nor white; he never married or had children, and his sexuality may have been sporadic. He was totally unfit for the world as it was. With his vote, Jefferson offered Hemings the job of chef at the White House, but the two men disagreed on the terms. Instead, James stayed in Baltimore, cooking in a tavern and drinking heavily until his death at the age of 36. His story deserves to be included in the curriculum – or, at least, it is deserves the Hollywood treatment.

Fresh water, which I believe will be the defining resource of this century. I wrote about the challenges of flooding, drought, pollution and sustainable use in my 2011 book “The Ripple Effect.” The ominous statements my sources made a decade ago are proving to be correct sooner than expected, and their message remains clear: We can live without oil, but not without water .

Out of necessity, I organize the books I use for current projects in a relative order – my office shelf has sections on food history and recipes, presidents, political and social history, White House and so on. But the rest of my library is a series of random collections. It doesn’t help that my wife is an avid artist and reader, whose shelves are filled with art and photography books, as well as an array of stories, poems, health and exercise guides, and volumes of planned. Most of our books are not on the floor, at least, but on one shelf I see “The New Machine” next to “All the Lord’s Men” on top of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Why? I have no idea. It’s a pack, but I can usually get my hands on the volumes I need.

Marie Kondo – she’s kidding! I like big, picture-heavy books about marine biology, like Ernst Haeckel’s “Art Forms in Nature” or the American Museum of Natural History’s “Opulent Oceans.” I find them beautiful and strange, and they poke fun at Jacques Cousteau. I bet James Cameron likes them, too.

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