President 15: James Buchanan
March 4, 1857 – March 4, 1861
President Buchanan holds the title of the only life-long Bachelor President and if we know anything about single guys, they often are quite well versed in the party arena (hence the single part). Though Buchanan served right as the country was on the brink of war, and is generally not high on the “best Presidents ever” list, he does have some shining foodie moments.
The ladies of Washington society were so starved at this point of over-the-top Presidential fanfare that they lapped up the inaugural ball like rabid cats. To accommodate the five thousand guests, a temporary ballroom was built in Judiciary Square for the occasion. The President was accompanied by his sister’s daughter, Harriet Lane, whom he had adopted following her death. She was graceful, poised and had flair for the European style that Buchanan himself favored in both dress and food. On the menu, were a mere:
8 rounds of beef75 hams60 saddles of mutton4 saddles of venison400 gallons of oysters5 quarts of chicken salad 125 tongues [you read that correctly]500 quarts of jellies1200 quarts of ice creamAnd an endless assortment of pâtés
A 4 foot tall cake, with each state flag painted on it, was also rolled out just when folks were pleasantly tipsy. The dancing continued till 4 am and the final wine tab was $3,000 [side note: I understand at this was an extortionate amount of money at the time but I am sure I spent near that last year on my meager salary]. Throughout his administration, the parties had a consistent formal French vibe to them and were expensive to boot. Buchanan had to pay for many meals out of pocket as the Presidential budget did not afford his tastes.
Two days after his inauguration ball the Dred Scott decision was announced. Politically, he was a true lawyer and had always had the upmost faith that the legal system would be respected and ultimately secession would be avoided. His lack of flexibility in unchartered waters led to a loss of control. After four years of sectional strife, Buchanan left the White House with the following words for Abe Lincoln, “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning [home], you are a happy man.” Two months later war was declared.
Buchanan’s love for French cuisine was apparent but the one gorgeous protein on the menu that I feel is quintessentially American is venison. An obvious food source for the Pilgrims, it was enjoyed by the Native Americans long before they arrived. It was also a feature of the first Thanksgiving. Lean, gamey and easily dried out, it can be a tricky one to cook but the payoff is a serious treat. It is easy to come by if you know some hunters. If you run in different circles, it is easy to get from your local butcher. You can do a saddle, as suggested above or splurge and get the tenderloin (highly recommended).
It is a quick cook and, in my opinion, better on the very rare side.
To cook the perfect Venison Tenderloin
Take your ½ lb tenderloin out of the fridge and let it come to room temperaturePreheat your oven to 400 FSprinkle the venison with cracked pepper and salt. Heat 2 glugs oil in pan over high heat until smoking. Sear the venison on all sides (it should get a nice brown color). Move the pan to the oven for a 5-7 minutes (depending on how rare you want it). Remove from the oven and let it stand for at least 5 before cutting
I served the Venison with my Creamy Wild Mushroom Ragu
1 ½ lb mixed wild mushrooms (fresh)1 glug olive oil1 Tbsp butter1 clove garlic, minced1 shallot, minced1 glug dry white wine¼ cup heavy cream¼ cup crème fraiche1 tsp chopped thymeSalt and pepper, to tasteChopped parsley to top
In a large deep skillet, add the olive oil and butter and cook the mushrooms over med/high heat until they are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook for two minutes. Add a glug of dry white wine and stir till evaporated.Add the cream and crème fraiche. Lower heat. Combine. After a couple of minutes, when thick, remove from heat.
From: 76- A Cookbook from Ladies of Plymouth Church by Bessie R. Murphy, 1876
[Combine] Five pounds of [red] currant pulp [aka strip currants off the stalks and mushed], three pounds of sugar, one pint of vinegar, one tablespoon of black pepper, one-half tablespoon of [ground] cloves, two teaspoons of salt; spice it more if you like. Put the currants through a [fine] sieve; boil two hours [and put in jars].
I suggest putting the currants through the fine sieve ahead of combining with the other ingredients. If you don’t have a fine sieve, you can always use a couple of pieces of muslin and squeeze the liquid out that way.
You can absolutely cut the recipe down; just be mindful of cooking time. It will not need to boil for two hours until sticky.
For those unfamiliar with currants, they are related to gooseberries and have a gorgeous tart flavor. They are available at many farmers markets and high end grocery stores.