Michelle Obama vs. Thomas Jefferson: Who's the Better Gardener?

Gardens at Monticello
Michelle Obama may be the most enthusiastic gardener the White House has seen in several years, but she's not the first. The White House has seen several vegetable gardens, including FDR's Victory Garden. But perhaps the most passionate gardener the White House has ever seen was Thomas Jefferson. He added to the White House vegetable garden John Adams created, but his masterpiece was actually located at his estate, Monticello.

So what did the author of the Declaration of Independence grow? Turns out he was as innovative a thinker in the garden as he was in politics. Jefferson introduced new foods and cultivation methods to America -- and many of those same foods are now growing in the First Lady's garden.

Keep reading to find out what Jefferson might have eaten from his garden around July 4th ...


Jefferson loved his veggies. In fact, he declared that they "constitute my principal diet." Here's what he harvested in July -- and how it was prepared.

  • Artichokes -- leaves trimmed, steamed, and served with a dish of butter.
  • Haricot Vert -- picked while very young and boiled, or preserved in salt according to Jefferson's own recipe.
  • Okra -- used in Monticello's own gumbo recipe.
  • Lima Beans -- boiled and then served in a "boat" of butter or used in the house gumbo.
  • Indian Corn -- Jefferson ate his roasted, on the cob.
  • Cucumbers -- fried or preserved as pickles.
  • Nasturtiums -- ripe seeds salted and boiled, then soaked in water -- Jefferson preferred these to capers.
  • Peas -- boiled and served with butter and mint.
  • Squash -- Jefferson grew a South American breed called Cymlin, which we now call patty-pan.
  • Tomatas -- Jefferson's relatives created scores of tomato-based recipes, from gazpacho to pickles.
  • Turnips -- boiled and mashed, strained, and then stewed in butter and milk.
  • Irish Potatoes -- it appears Jefferson was the first to introduce America to pommes de terre frites, our beloved French fries.
  • Salsify -- boiled, fried, cooked in batter, this was a favorite at Monticello.

The First Lady planted a few of Jefferson's favorite vegetables in the White House garden, including Brown Dutch and Tennis Ball lettuce, Savoy cabbage, and Prickly Seed spinach. Monticello donated the seeds and plants. Like Jefferson, she'll be harvesting artichokes, tomatoes, and nasturtiums about this time of year -- though given the hot spring we've had, I suspect her peas may be spent by now.

You can visit a recreation of Jefferson's gardens at Monticello outside Charlottesville, Virginia. 


Image via Monticello

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