Food and Luxury at The Hermitage
Food is such an integral part of the holiday season so naturally we are curious about that aspect of the Jackson family’s life. Unfortunately, no one carefully recorded menus and recipes of typical Jackson family meals at this or any other season. To learn about the Jackson family eating habits we have to be detectives. Receipts, family cookbooks, and objects in the collection all provide clues about food, dining, and entertaining at The Hermitage.
Wealthy families like the Jacksons could supplement the farm grown food with luxuries purchased in Nashville or shipped in from New Orleans. The few receipts that document food purchases provide tantalizing hints at the quantity of luxuries that made their way to The Hermitage.
Most recipes involved grinding up sugar, spices, and other ingredients. The two recipes below are for Jumbals, small cakes that would be served in a cake basket and wafers that would have been served with the pot-de-crème.
Crème, custard, or jellies were accompanied by wafers, delicate sweet crisps that were served flat or rolled around a spoon handle while still warm and flexible to make a cone.
BEAT six eggs, add a pint of flour, two ounces of melted butter, with as much milk as will make a thin batter—put in pounded loaf sugar to your taste, pour it in the wafer irons, bake them quickly without browning, and roll them while hot.
Put one pound of nice sugar into two pounds of flour; add pounded spice of any kind, and pass them through a sieve; beat four eggs, pour them on with three quarters of a pound of melted butter, knead all well together, and bake them.
The Jacksons frequently purchased tea imported from China. The Maunsel White receipt above lists green tea (gunpowder) and Oolong (Ouchlong). The Jacksons also purchased Java coffee, grown in the present country of Indonesia, once the world’s largest coffee producer. Tea was not just a beverage, but also an important social occasion. “To tell you of this city [Washington], I would not do justice to the subject. The extravagance is in dressing and running to parties….Two dinings; several times to drink tea…” (Rachel Donelson Jackson to Eliza Kingsley, 1824.)
None of this information is especially tied to celebrating Christmas, but it does show that the Jacksons and their guests enjoyed a variety of treats and imported luxuries all year round.