I received A White House Garden Cookbook, expecting to find it stuffed with recipes from the men and women of the White House itself – perhaps a hearty roasted vegetable dish by Martha Washington, or some elegant canapes Jackie Kennedy used to make. In fact, the book is largely centered around the Obamas and the gardening and healthy eating education campaign spearheaded by Michelle. Many of the recipes come from children in community garden projects, although a few old-timey recipes are included as well.
Because of the focus on children’s programs, many of the recipes in this book are extremely simple – directions for preparing four-ingredient kale salad, garlicky collard greens and “White House Basic Boiled Greens” – the latter from The White House Cookbook of 1894. Most of the recipes, unsurprisingly, are vegetarian: ratatouille, blueberry pancakes, tostadas and the like. Interspersed with the recipes are descriptions of various White House garden events, tidbits about past presidents and highlights from various children’s programs. The book is colorful and highly illustrated, though few of the dishes themselves are pictured.
Recipes From the White House Family Cookbook
The first recipe I tried from this cookbook was Barack Obama’s Chili – presumably made by the President himself. While one has to respect a president who cooks his own chili, I regret to say that the final product was disappointing – bland and flavorless. My husband added some emergency seasonings – sweet chili sauce, mustard, soy sauce and garlic salt – and the final product was edible, but we were both rather unimpressed by the original recipe.
I had better luck with the Rhubarb Buttermilk Cake. The cake was moist enough to keep for several days and tasted delicious as a dessert, served warm with yogurt cream. The White House Honey Cupcakes were a moderate success – I found the honey icing overly sweet and too runny to spread neatly, but the un-iced cupcakes stayed moist for a few days and made a nice change from plain vanilla cupcakes. Neither of these dessert recipes hailed from President’s wives – the cupcakes were from the Obama Foodorama blog, and the rhubarb cake recipe was given to an Idaho culinary program for children by a student’s grandmother. Nevertheless, the low-pedigree recipes were very tasty!
On the whole, I found the book a little unfocused – it didn’t seem to be targeted towards children, healthy eaters (most of the sweet recipes were loaded with sugar), history buffs or foodies. Perhaps ardent fans of Michelle and Barack Obama will find the book most rewarding, as it provides glimpses into several family events at the White House and talks up Michelle’s healthy eating program. The book is also a decent introduction to seasonal eating in the USA, and may inspire readers to grow some slightly more unusual veggies such as fennel and okra. Personally, I found myself more intrigued by the occasionally-mentioned White House Cookbook of 1894. Judging by the recipes sourced from the older text, it’s well worth looking up!
“The White House Garden Cookbook: Healthy Ideas From the First Family for Your Family” was provided to The Untrained Housewife for the purpose of review.