It is well documented that Franklin was interested in tofu, which he called a sort of cheese made from beans, and he got a recipe for making it that he sent on to others. But no source that I have found gives any reason to believe he or any of the others ever made any tofu. Does anyone here know of evidence on the question?
migrated from cooking.stackexchange.com Feb 4 at 19:22
This question came from our site for professional and amateur chefs.
Probably not. It's impossible to prove a negative like this, so this answer is necessarily inferential.
Let's start by looking at Franklin's letter:
In the bolded passage, Franklin reveals that he has not successfully grown anything from the soybean seeds he has forwarded along. He calls them "Chinese Garavances," and says he doesn't know whether they differ from ordinary Garavances. This means he thinks soybeans are like chickpeas/garbanzo beans (though to be fair, he doesn't seem familiar with chickpeas either). But when he says that soybeans "are said to be of great increase," this implies a lack of firsthand experience with growing soybeans. No soybeans, no tofu.
He also implies a lack of experience with making tofu when he writes "some runnings of salt (I suppose runnet) is put into water." This is Franklin's sole commentary on the tofu recipe, which he otherwise forwarded to his friend unaltered. Franklin writes more authoritatively when describing recipes for dishes he probably has made (e.g. "Bite of a Mad Dog").
If you follow the link above, you can read the original recipe from James Flint. Flint also implies that he has never tried to make tofu himself: "The method the Chinese convert Callivances into Towfu. They first steep the Grain in warm water ten or twelve Hours to soften a little, that it may grind easily . . . Then they stir up the flower & put the Water over the Fire just for it to simmer . . . This is the process as I always understood."
So Franklin is playing a game of telephone with tofu recipes.
Also note that Franklin makes no mention of tofu's taste. In his other writings on food, he does mention taste:
And on maize:
And on American cuisine in general:
Of course, none of this is definitive. Maybe at some point Franklin or his friend Bartram did try out the tofu recipe. If so, as the writer at the link says, it was probably more a science experiment than anything: "Without any cultural context for the food, 18th c. Philadelphians would have had little idea how to cook, season, store or eat tofu." Imagine thinking that tofu was going to be some kind of cheese. Having made it poorly from a third-hand recipe, you then spread it unadorned on a cracker or piece of toast. I imagine you wouldn't repeat the experience.
Bonus Ben Franklin Fact: He was into electrocuting turkeys because it made them "uncommonly tender."