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Monticello's Heritage Harvest Festival

Suzanne Pollak

The Deans are giddy after our talk at Monticello. We simply had the best time ever. We cannot encourage you more heartily to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival in 2015. We already have next year's event on our calendar.

Monticello invited the Deans to kick off their Art of Living portion of the weekend. We were put up in the most sumptuous guesthouse we have ever seen on a farm in Keswick. On Friday morning we took a walk to get our blood flowing and then on to Monticello for a Behind the Scenes Tour (all four floors) with the most competent tour guide who has ever led us around. The house spoke to us and we listened. Thomas Jefferson is THE founding father of gracious living.

Monticello's Dining Room    Image credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Sequoia Designs   Copyright © Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Monticello's Dining Room 

Image credit: Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Sequoia Designs
Copyright © Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Friday night's Heritage Harvest dinner was sublime; atop Monalto was a glorious food tent filled with the best wines, ciders and foods that Virginia has to offer. Thomas Jefferson was passionate about vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture...a full two centuries ahead of his time!  Aaron Keefer, the head gardener for the famed French Laundry, was the keynote speaker Friday night and the Deans were enthralled.  He led the audience around his garden and even brought samples including a spinach that tasted EXACTLY like an oyster.  Both Deans wanted to put him in a doggy bag and take him home. 

Saturday saw us on a panel with Charlotte Moss moderating, and Annie Vanderwarker (Fearless Flowers), Holly Shimizu (former director of the US Botanic Gardens) and Gabriele Rausse (Monticello's Director of Gardens and Grounds) and the Deans, all answering questions about The Art of Living. After posing for copious photographs, we were whisked away to deliver our own standing room only talk. We left the Visitor’s Center to sign books on the lawn of Monticello, then were in a short video interview and on to an unbelievable dinner at Red Pump. We are tired just reading about it. How we did it we’ll never know, but boy, it was fabulous. Thank you, thank you Monticello.


Fun facts we learned this weekend:

  • Jefferson kept 33 chairs in Monticello's front hall so anyone who wished could wait to see the great man himself.
  • Jefferson was so egalitarian that even in his own house, as well as the White House, seating was first come first serve.
  • There is no central staircase at Monticello because Jefferson thought it was a waste of precious space and heat. The Deans would follow President Jefferson anywhere, but we are not sure he was 100% on this point:-)
  • He made sure his granddaughters were educated because he told them they had a one in fourteen chance of marrying a blockhead.
  • The fact that resonated most with the Deans: Thomas Jefferson used his dining room twice a day! How many times have you used yours in the last year?


The Monticello dining room has seen many fabulous meals in its day.  In the book Dining at Monticello: In Good Taste & Abundance, we have found an authentic recipe from Monticello using Mutton Chops which today can be substituted for lamb. 


Serves 4 to 6


8 mutton or lamb rib chops (at least 3/4 to 1 inch thick)


Whole black pepper in a pepper mill

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup Mushroom Catsup (can be found by some specialty condiment companies)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish


1.  Prepare a grill with hardwood coals.  When the coals have burned to a medium-hot fire, rub the grill rack with a cloth dipped in lard or bacon drippings and position it about 4 to 6 inches above the coals.

2.  Season the chops with salt and several grindings of pepper and grill them, turning once, until cooked to the doneness of choice, about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare.  Remove them to a warm platter and set aside to keep warm.

3.  Bring the water to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Add the Mushroom Catsup, additional salt if needed, and simmer for about 1 minute more.  Remove from the heat, whisk in the butter, and pour it over the chops.  Sprinkle a little horseradish over them, and spoon the remaining horseradish around the edges of the platter.

NOTE: Readers who are not concerned with authenticity or who are unable to grill-broil may use the oven broiler.  Position a rack about 6 inches below the broiler and preheat for 20 minutes.  Rub the broiling pan rack with lard or drippings and lay the chops on it.  Lightly brush them with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.  Broil, turning once, until done to taste, about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare.