There is something magical about being able to share in an experience when a person is just doing what they love. The Heritage Harvest Festival, held at Monticello, is a celebration of Jefferson’s contribution to agriculture in the US and his status as America’s first foodie. I was lucky enough to receive an invite to preview day with other local bloggers to enjoy lessons in history, agriculture, and to celebrate a shared passion: food.
We were greeted by our three wonderful tour guides at Mulberry Row for a Revolutionary Gardens tour. The vegetable garden on grounds was restored to highlight the same varieties of plants Jefferson cultivated in the early nineteenth century. The garden is a living expression of Jefferson’s vision and passion for agriculture.
We were whisked into the 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden and handed baskets to collect a bounty of vegetables and herbs that would create our lunch. The Revolutionary Gardens tour isn’t just a lesson on the 300 plus varieties of vegetables, but a chance to harvest a taste of something enjoyed over 200 years ago. A base of lettuce and french vinaigrette would be topped with whatever the group selected.
Strolling through the rows of greens, herbs, tomatoes, and late summer vegetables, we learned about each crop as well as the significance to Jefferson and helped paint a picture of the meals Jefferson would enjoy.
Jefferson called the caracalla bean the “most beautiful bean in the world,” and it is hard not to love with it’s rich jasmine-like smell and delicately folded leaves.
Salsify and eggplant were grown to mimic seafood that would be difficult to obtain in central Virginia. Salsify was called “poor man’s oyster” and eggplant was described as tasting like soft-shell crabs.
We listened to Gabriele Rausse (who is described as the Father of Virginia wine) describe his journey back to the gardens of Monticello where he serves as the Director of Gardens and Grounds. Gabriele discussed Jefferson’s contribution to science through his meticulous methods of staking each row of vegetables and monitoring the progress of each growing season. He painted a picture of a man who seemed happiest among plants, who once stated “none of them will every betray me.”
As our tour came to an end we dined on salads, heirloom tomatoes, fresh figs, Orange Glow watermelon, and lavender lemonade.
Traditionally prepared chocolate was enjoyed by the masses, just as it was intended to be in the 1800s.
Cider flowed and was sipped courtesy of Albemarle Ciderworks, who’s Virginia Hewes Crab cider was produced from apples planted at Monticello.
Monticello Reserve Ale produced by Starr Hill was sampled. This wheat and corn beer is a traditional English Ale made with Kent Goldings hops.
I basked in the glory of a beautiful fall day with my lovely friend and photographer Kristen. We stood “on the place of a rebel” and a revolutionary, celebrating a love of local food.
If something is beautiful, you keep thinking about it. – Gabriele Rausse
It was truly a beautiful day that filled my heart and mind in many ways. Many thanks to all of the staff members at Monticello and our wonderful tour guides Lisa, Eleanor, Peggy, and Pat!
Photography from Kristen Finn