President 38: Gerald Ford
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
I can’t decide if being a kid in the White House would be the best or worst way to grow up. On a positive note, you are pretty much guaranteed Ivy League admission, unless you really mess up, and have a backstage pass to anything cool happening in the District. This comes with a price. Every time you smile and flash those braces and awkward break outs, the world knows. You are at press conferences during your sleep-in times and state receptions when your friends are out buying beer with their fake IDs. From administration to administration, I am sure the kids of the White House have had varying opinions on their special treatment. One teen who embraced the role was Susan Ford, the youngest of the Ford kids. She hosted her Senior Prom in the East Room, frequented the in-house bowling alley, and, with her brothers, had the cooks whip up late night snacks. As the First Family pays their own grocery bill, the kids racked up quite the tab. Gerald Ford and his family had a unique experience in the White House from the get-go as they weren’t prepared at all for it. After the resignation of Spiro Agnew and President Nixon, the Fords packed their bags and moved to Pennsylvania Avenue. His biggest task was to keep order in Washington and faith alive in the public. He had the distinct advantage of being able to conduct himself without the pressure of fulfilling campaign promises and being constantly tested by a public who didn’t elect him. With his calm demeanor, President Ford fulfilled his duty and earned himself a positive place in the history books.
As a family, the Fords were an extremely athletic bunch and kept their meals healthy and hearty. For breakfast, it was normally English muffins and fruit. There is actually a famous picture of the President toasting his own, a planned photo opp. For weekend brunches, it was waffles with sour cream and strawberries, flavors similar to our strawberry shortcake this week. The family normally ate dinner late, starting around nine pm, in the White House family dining room. Jackie Kennedy had redone the space with shockingly expensive French wallpaper, complete with scenes of the French revolution. Betty Ford had it replaced as the violence understandably ruined her appetite. President Ford’s favorite dinner was pork chops with stewed red cabbage and apples. Cabbage was his favorite. Mrs. Ford’s simple beef stew with walnuts recipe was also served often, including their anniversary every year. Their chef, Henry Haller, remembers the family as easy to please and approachable. It was this approachability, especially in Betty, that made her a brave advocate for breast cancer and, more famously, for addiction awareness.
Desserts were not commonplace on the Ford table but this strawberry shortcake was requested by Susan on those days when a teenager just needs something sweet, no matter the cost. The President had sugar removed from the table and from almost everything in their diet in protest of its high price at the time. The Sugar Act of 1934, stemming from the Great Depression, made sugarcane a basic commodity and gave sugar farmers a pretty sweet subsidy to keep prices low. It expired in 1974. Economists coined the term “white gold” and until President Carter’s term, it stayed ridiculously expensive. When the price came back down, the nation shoved it in every packaged product we could find. This strawberry shortcake is well worth the indulgence. I have made some adjustments, including the use of coconut oil instead of butter and balsamic vinegar as a marinade for the strawberries. Weird you say? The tangy vinegar brings out the best flavor in the berries, making their full flavor shine. Just remember to add sugar to balance it out.
Susan’s Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from the White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller
My changes are in Italics
6 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
Grated peel ½ lemon
1 cup flour, sifted
½ cup melted coconut oil
3 pints strawberries, cut into bite sized pieces
1 pint whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 additional Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 10-inch cake pan; dust lightly with flour.
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs with the granulated sugar until fluffy. Transfer to the top of a double boiler.
Set over hot water and continue beating until doubled in bulk and thickened, about 7 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Continue beating until cooled. Fold in grated lemon peel.
Fold in one-third of the sifted flour; fold in one third of the coconut oil.
Repeat twice to fold in remaining flour and oil. Do not overmix.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake on lower shelf of pre-heated over for 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Let pan cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Turn cake out onto wire rack and let cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.
Cut strawberries into bite size pieces. Reserve several smaller berries for garnish. Add 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbsp sugar. Mix and refrigerate overnight.
In a cold mixing bowl, whip the cream with vanilla.
Use a long serrated knife to slice cold cake horizontally.
Spread the bottom layer with whipped cream and cover with the other cake layer, cut side down. Add ½ of the strawberries.
Frost entire cake with a thin layer of whipped cream, leaving enough to use for decoration. Garnish top with the rest of the strawberries.