From Smithsonian.com by Ryan P. Smith:
When you picture Benjamin Franklin, what do you see? A lovable mad scientist flying a kite in the rain, perhaps, or a shrewd political strategist haggling at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Maybe you imagine Franklin schmoozing with the French, brokering deals, or hurriedly setting type in the offices of the Pennsylvania Gazette. What you likely do not envision is Franklin the gardening whiz and gourmet, writing excitedly from London on the subject of a mysterious Chinese “cheese” called “tau-fu.”
The letter in question, preserved for posterity by The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, dates to January 1770, and was addressed to Franklin’s Philadelphia bosom buddy John Bartram. “I send some dried Pease, highly esteemed here as the best for making pease soup,” Franklin wrote, “and also some Chinese Garavances, with Father Navaretta’s account of the universal use of a cheese made of them, in China…” This unassuming letter, one of countless thousands to make its way across the Atlantic in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, is the earliest known description of tofu—the Chinese “cheese” in question—to reach American soil.
Together, Bartram and Franklin had founded the American Philosophical Society in 1743, and both were prominent members of the intellectually minded community betterment club known as the Junto, which Franklin had created in 1727 at 21 years of age. Living in the same city, the two friends had no need to write each other letters. But once Franklin’s political maneuvering brought him to England, a line of correspondence quickly opened up. In brief, amiable messages, the two thinkers discussed whatever fresh projects were on their minds. More often than not, these projects had a horticultural bent.