From all accounts, the dinner parties hosted by James and Elizabeth Monroe were very formal affairs. Large dinners had an especially “cold air,” according to novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who was frequently invited to dine at the Monroe White House. Describing a particular dinner, Cooper wrote:
The whole entertainment might have passed for a better sort of European dinner party, at which the guests were too numerous for general or very agreeable discourse and some of them too new to be entirely at ease. Mrs. Monroe arose at the end of dessert, and withdrew…No sooner was his wife’s back turned than the president reseated himself, inviting his guests to imitate the same action. After allowing his guests sufficient time to renew in a few glasses...he arose, giving the hint to his company that it was time to join the ladies. In the drawing room, coffee was served and everyone left the house before nine…
Cooper didn't comment on what was served at that particular dinner, but the Monroes were known for serving elaborate French dishes which they had been become accustomed to during their years in Paris while James served as U.S. Minister to France. Still, biographers say that James retained a childhood taste for Spoon Bread, Chicken Pudding and other simple foods of his youth.
Apple Charlotte was another Monroe family favorite, so much so that Elizabeth reportedly passed a recipe for it along to Martha Washington, who added it to her enormous recipe collection. Although Elizabeth's Apple Charlotte would be difficult to duplicate today, you can try this quick and delicious version that was prepared on the Food Network by Paula Dean.
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoons mace
5 Granny Smith apples, pared, cored and sliced thin
3 fresh lemons, zested
6 tablespoons butter, cold
1 stick butter, melted
1 loaf French bread shredded into crumbs, reserve 1 cup
In a bowl, add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. Mix together. Reserve 1 cup of mixture to be used for topping. In a separate bowl, mix together apples and lemon zest.
Cover the bottom of Dutch oven pan with bread crumbs and bits of butter. Layer bottom with some sliced apples and brown sugar with a few pats of butter on top. Repeat with another layer until the pan is filled.
For the top layer, combine reserved cup of bread crumbs, melted butter and 1 cup reserved mixture. Sprinkle on top and top with more butter. Bake for 30 minutes until the golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!
FAST FACT: James Fenimore Cooper is most well known for his historical novels known as The Leatherstocking Tales, featuring a frontiersman named Natty Bumppo. Among his most famous works is The Last of the Mohicans, which takes place during the French and Indian War and was made into a popular movie starring Daniel Day Lewis.
Credit: Elizabeth Monroe, oil on canvas, by John Vanderlyn