Thomas Jefferson is full of beans.

Old chocolate is amazing.

And I don’t mean old as in you found last Halloween’s leftover bag of miniature Snickers bars, and after removing both the fake and the real cobwebs, you classified it as … edible-ish.

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I mean old chocolate as in 250 year-old chocolate.

Okay, maybe I mean a 250 year-old recipe for chocolate, but I’m hoping that might be implied.

Regardless, I recently had a chance to taste this luscious libation when I last visited one of my fathers’ homes. Forefathers that is.

Although not technically related, I do feel a special kinship with Thomas Jefferson in that he and I share a lot of commonality:

Thomas Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State. I was the first United States Secretary of Stately Housekeeping in the ramshackle kindling fort my brother and I made when we were kids. Both Jefferson and I argued endlessly with the Secretary of the Treasury over fiscal responsibility and where we would spend our combined allowance—I mean finances.

Thomas Jefferson was a leader in enlightenment. He brought about awareness and understanding to millions on a plethora of subjects. I am a leader in de-lightenment. I bring about awareness and understanding to my children on the cost of keeping a room lit with no one in it to enlighten. (Hold your groans, it only gets worse from here.)

We shared a great love of books, both played the violin, and astonishingly enough, it appears we employed the same hairdresser for much of our adult lives.

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But it’s the love of Colonial chocolate that brought me closest to Jefferson on my last visit to his shiny little shanty. The architecture of Monticello could not compete with the spindly legged table set up in his yard that was used to demonstrate a ‘made from scratch nectar’ enjoyed by our late president and many lucky citizens of the 18th century.

The event was the Heritage Harvest Festival. Coined as America’s First Foodie, Mr. Jefferson invited friends and family to one of his annual backyard BBQs. He’s good like that, allowing folks to trample through his garden and kids to climb his trees. I bet if he were alive today, he’d have been right out there on the West Lawn with the rest of us, eating a pulled pork sandwich and washing it down with a local brew.

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Or he might have been standing behind me as I attempted for the third time that day to pass myself off as a curious newcomer to the demonstration of ‘How the colonials made their chocolate drink.’ Free samples in miniature Dixie cups were handed out after you watched someone explain the roasting of cocoa beans, the process of de-shelling the beans by hand and the grueling work of grinding the cocoa nibs via mortar and pestle.

Yes, arduous work.

Thank you for the sample.


(Wait for 30 minutes behind a tree)

Get back in line.

There were a million things to learn about at this historical heritage happening. We were encouraged to Celebrate the harvest and the legacy of revolutionary gardener Thomas Jefferson who championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture.

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And to Taste a bounty of heirloom fruits and vegetables and learn about organic gardening and seed-saving during this fun, affordable, family-friendly festival.

But I’ve had bushels full of fabulous fruit and veg this summer already, and was plum up to my earballs in articles and lectures on sustainable farming and gardening.


Okay, yes, every day I make sure to eat a fistful of mahogany magnificence, but this is not the point. The point is that what I usually have in my fist did not measure up to what I saw casually proffered to passersby via cherub-faced young ladies. What they held out on their trays should have been deemed illegal. It was addictive, enslaving—I was hooked.

It was cocoa bean crack.

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At one point in 1785, Thomas Jefferson penned that chocolate would surpass American love for coffee and tea—just like it had happened in Spain. Clever, clever Spaniards. I’m guessing over there, little kids had set up chocolate stalls and kicked the idea of lemonade stands to the curb.

Even Benjamin Franklin understood the importance of this ambrosia. Somehow, between his good looks and charm, he arranged six pounds of chocolate to accompany every officer, termed “a special supply” for those who marched alongside General Braddock’s Army during the French and Indian war. I’m guessing most Americans today would be asking for a refill after a week and a half tops.

Back up top at Monticello, I finally succumbed to guilt and temptation and forked out the twenty some dollars for the small tin of the American Heritage Historic Chocolate drink. It will sit on my desk for months as I gaze longingly at it, but I will repeatedly tell myself it should be saved for something monumental like a presidential election, or something worthy like passing a test, or a kidney stone.

Likely, next September will roll around and I will receive another invitation to visit the grandpappy of our population. I will rootle around on my desk searching for my tickets and come across the tin, having been buried beneath overdue Netflix movies, bills and yes, last year’s Halloween candy.

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I will head to the hill for some history (okay, we all know I’m just going for the chocolate) and try to soothe the guilt that bubbles up admonishing me for wasting money on something I didn’t even consume.

But then I will remind myself that the chocolate is 250 years old already, so what’s one more year. In fact, I’m totally with Mark Twain on the subject: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.


Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

26 thoughts on “Thomas Jefferson is full of beans.

    • Next time you take a tour, unhook the rope that’s strung across the hallway leading to the kitchen. It leads to a locked blue arched doorway. Have someone boost you up onto their shoulders because right at the top of the arch is a key that’s taped to the molding. Snag that and use it to gain entrance to the kitchen. Go to the far left side of the room where you’ll find the pantry. That door has a padlock on it. The combination is 4-13-43 (that’s TJ’s birthdate). In the back of the pantry is a series of apothecary drawers. Open the one marked Digitalis or Sulphur – it doesn’t matter which. Those are the guys that hold the cacao beans.
      There’s a mortar and pestle in there somewhere too.
      And you’re welcome.

  1. As always, loved your post Shelley. My Hubby is a chocoholic and I admire your resolve on not opening the $20 tin. With him, it would not have even got out of the car park! Excellent (and no doubt the chocolate is too!)

    • Thank you so much for coming back to read! And I would probably be much more like your husband if I didn’t carry around so much old Catholic guilt. There’s always this Gregorian chant-like tune playing in the background of my life, that when translated out of the Greek, sounds something like, ‘You are not worthy. Don’t drink the chocolate.’
      As soon as I can find the volume for that guy, that tin is a gonner.

  2. I too have been there; however I seemed to have missed the chocolate demo. I oddly got lost in the garden as I was having a conversation with Escoffier (yes, we talk often) about what we were going to make after we figured out just how to “sneak” a harvest out of TJ’s lush garden.

    Oh, and Shelley, I know better… you may enjoy aged malt whiskey and allow it to age further, but chocolate… I’m bet’n that tin’s damn near empty. 😉 I’ll just have to ask Cleo.

    And again, hilarious cartoons Rob. (Shelley, I think he’s got something for veggies as this is the second time he’s characterized leeks. Perhaps he needs more sun).


    Stoshu 🙂

  3. I think you may be right, bud. But Rob has a brood of youngins at home–and I may be going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing some of his doodles may be a spillover effect of the typical parent attempting to make vegetables attractive and appetizing to finicky diners.
    Nonetheless, feel free to send him a gift basket with anything that has a dose of vitamin D in it. It’s gonna get cold and dark in Sweden pretty darn quick. And I need his mind as sharp as a tack through the winter.

    • By the way, the first person who comes up with the right answer to the question of what E=MC2 stands for in the Leekstein cartoon wins a free vegetable cartoon 🙂

          • Well … unless they’re vegetables coated in chocolate or secretly blended into some highly potent caffeinated drink, I think that’s a forlorn hope. Teenagers in general are fairly blind to vegetables. Even if they’re vegetarian teenagers.

            • Think of three vegetables (you don’t have to eat them, so it’s quite safe!). One beginning with E, one beginning with M and one beginning with C (that’s an easy one – look at the cartoon). Coat them in chocolate, maple syrup, gooseberry marmalade… whatever takes your fancy 🙂

  4. “Fistful of mahogany magnificence.” Inspired. Also loved the “feed your head” Jefferson! I’m convinced that he is one who would adapt with great delight to modern science, culture, and especially the infinite variety of our global village’s food and drink– if only he could be reanimated to savor it all.

  5. Where I live, you can’t turn a full circle without seeing someone dressed up for a reenactment of something Jeffersonian. It’s like constantly sighting Elvis in your hometown, only one that’s much shorter and in a powdered wig. Same amount of sequins though.

  6. Love your post. I am a chocolate lover myself and would have done exactly what you did, hid behind a tree then appear curious and eager to learn just to have chocolate. Enjoyed it totally, your post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Really? Okay then, I say we pitch it like this:
      I do one show for every past president we’ve had and film it in each of their family home kitchens.
      We’ll make a cherry pie for Washington. Andrew Jackson liked to impress people with the amount of cheddar cheese he could offer up on a plate. James Buchanan could rival the epic bar tab of any fraternity house, so I say for that one I just sit in a chair and work my way through a fifth of scotch. Franklin Roosevelt loved his hot dogs, so this would have to be the most awesome of backyard BBQs, but all cooked sitting down. For Clinton, we’ll do a drive thru field trip to McDonald’s, and maybe we could throw in a meal for Reagan made entirely out of coordinating the mixing and matching of Jelly Belly candy.
      This is just a rough outline, but it’s a start.
      Regardless, a huge thanks for the compliment. 😉

      • Shelley,

        Lovey idea of the presidential food show series and I’m quite willing to help; however, related to Bill Clinton’s theme, I would think he would be more of a Halloween foods type person. Meaning, more of the “trick or treat” type diner, if you get my drift.

        Sorry, it’s quite foggy on the peninsula and it probably clouds my judgment of what I write.

        All the best,

        Stoshu. 🙂

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