Monday, January 31, 2022

Ben Franklin (1706-1790) On Tofu & Soybeans in 1770

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) c 1767 by David Martin (1736-1798)

 Rae Katherine Eighmey, author of the colonial kitchen odyssey Stirring the Pot With Benjamin Franklin, writes that when he was in North America, “He tromped—literally tromped—from Canada to Florida seeking new and unusual plants, which he would then package up and send to people in England.” And not just anyone, Eighmey says, but “the social folks, and the scientifically inclined people”—the cream of the crop.

The earliest document, known at this time, in which an American mentions tofu is a letter written by Benjamin Franklin (who was then living in London) to John Bartram in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 11, 1770. 

He sent Bartram some soybeans (which he called "Chinese caravances") & with them he sent "Father Navarrete's account of the universal use of a cheese made of them in China, which so excited my curiosity, that I caused enquiry to be made of Mr. [James] Flint, who lived many years there, in what manner the cheese was made, & I send you his answer. I have since learned that some runnings of salt (I suppose runnet) is put into water, when the meal is in it, to turn it to curds...These...are what the Tau-fu is made of."

Spanish missionary & archbishop Domingo Fern├índez Navarrete (1610-1689), was the Dominican who Franklin refers to “Father Navaretta” in his letter from London to Bartram back in Pennsylvania. Navarrete taught theology at the Dominican University of St. Thomas, Manilla, before he left for a mission to China in 1657. Navarrete visiting Asia, “learned about all the ‘strange things people in China eat." The monk's mendicant’s logs, & discoveries were published in Spanish in 1676. Among these was a method for preparing a popular Chinese foodstuff, which Navaretta termed “teu-fu.” 

Navarrate was highly respected by Pope Innocent XI (1611-1689), who wanted to appoint him bishop of the Chinese missions; but, Navarrete refused. In 1676, Navarrete's book, Tratados historicos, politicos, ethicos, y religiosos de la monarchia de China was initially published in Madrid. It was translated into most major European languages. It became particularly popular in England, where Franklin encountered it decades later. On Navarrate's return to Spain in 1677, the Pope, at the suggestion of Charles II, forced him to accept the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo in the West Indies, where he died after a decade working for the welfare of the people, particularly of its slave population.