Thursday, August 19, 2010

Martin Van Buren's Charming "Lady of the House"

When Martin Van Buren became president in 1837, he was a widower of nineteen years with four young bachelor sons. Dolley Madison was living nearby at the time, and historians say that when her "young relative-by-marriage Angelica Singleton came from South Carolina for a visit," the two went to the White House to "pay a call."

Angelica's "aristocratic manners, excellent education, and handsome face" quickly won the heart of the president's oldest son, Abraham. The two were married in 1838, and, after an extended honeymoon abroad, Abraham served as the president's private secretary and Angelica presided as "Lady of the House".

According to historian Poppy Cannon, Angelica did her best to lessen the formal atmosphere of the White House, though as a young mother, "she did not always find the assignment an easy one." In a letter home, Angelica candidly wrote:

My first state dinner is over; oh, such a long one, our first in the state dining room. I was the only lady at the table...I tried to be cheerful as possible, though I felt miserable all the time, as my baby was crying, and I received message after message to come to the nursery.

In addition to the rigors of hosting frequent state banquets and caring for a baby, Angelica graciously contributed many of her favorite Southern recipes to the White House kitchen. Although the president surely appreciated the assistance of his charming daughter-in-law, his tastes were deeply ingrained, and ran toward a somewhat strange combination of simple hearty Dutch fare and rich French and English dishes that he had grown accustomed to during his years serving as U.S. Minister to Britain.

With his friend Washington Irving, who was living in London at the time, Van Buren reportedly "explored old castles and abbeys, drank wassail before the Yule log in charming old taverns...and ate heartily" of the Olde English favorite, Boar's Head crowned with Holly and Rosemary.

While some of you might not be inclined to dine on a festive Boar's Head tonight, you can try this recipe for Rosemary Pork Tenderloin from the Food Network:

1/3 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves
4 sprigs rosemary, with hard woody stems
5 large garlic cloves, 2 cloves minced, 3 cloves smashed
2 pork tenderloins, about 1-pound each
4 slices maple bacon

In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, fresh ground black pepper, chopped rosemary, and minced garlic and mix well. Rub the mustard mixture over the surface of the tenderloins and wrap in plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place rosemary sprigs and smashed garlic in the center of a roasting pan. Remove the plastic wrap from the tenderloins and top each with 2 slices of maple bacon. Tie with kitchen twine to secure bacon strips.

Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer, inserted in the tenderloins, registers 160 degrees F. Remove from oven when desired doneness is reached and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes on a cutting board. Remove kitchen twine, slice and serve with your favorite sides. Garnish with the rosemary sprigs and garlic and enjoy!