Peter Hemings, Y’all

As this is Juneteenth, we should celebrate someone who was freed from slavery–Peter Hemings, head chef at Monticello. He learned to cook from his famous older brother James, and was such a master that President Thomas Jefferson would write from the White House for his recipes. Despite being enslaved, he was the half-brother of Jefferson’s wife. History is complicated.

Not satisfied with just that, Peter taught himself brewing, and became the head brewer at Monticello. He was so good at that that he was recommended to be an instructor for the brewer for President James Madison. Jefferson wrote Madison that Peter was “uncommonly intelligent and capable of teaching.” Apparently he could make great beer as well.

After he finally gained his freedom, Peter took up yet another trade–being a tailor in Richmond. It appears that the people of Virginia were both well fed and well clothed, because of people like Peter. My guess is he was the source of many of Mary Randolph’s recipes, from the famous 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife.

Author: southernfusionfood

Writer, Woodworker, and Happy Eater

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