The Best—and Worst—Strawberry Shortcake

StrawberriesNote from Feed The Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis: Today’s post is by guest writer Lois Armstrong, who has been a good friend for more than half my life. We met when she hired me to be the publications coordinator at Sinai Hospital of Detroit many moons ago. We worked together again when I was communications director at Hospice of Michigan, where she was a VP. We stayed in touch after Lois, a Detroit native, moved to Phoenix. She is now president of Solstice Living Solutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Betty and Frank Armstrong, circa 1975

Betty and Frank Armstrong, circa 1985

My husband’s mom and dad, Betty and Frank, met at church. They eloped when Frank’s formidable mother, Ruth, refused to approve the marriage.

They made a life in Bucyrus, Ohio, where each worked their way up in their professions—she from secretary to insurance underwriter, he from advertising manager to publisher of the local newspaper. Ruth lived with them the whole time. Betty forgave Ruth for trying to keep her away from Frank when they were young and for repeatedly flooding the laundry room when Ruth was old.

Betty’s life came to an abrupt end when she fell head-first off her bicycle and sustained a severe head injury. She was 65. By the time my husband and I arrived at their home, Frank was sobbing with his head in his hands. When he finally looked up he said, “She was such a good person.”

A wonderful baker

Though Betty couldn’t get the meat, the veg and the potato on the table at the same time, she was a wonderful baker. Many of Betty’s recipes stemmed from the time during World War II when Frank was fighting in the Pacific and she kept house for her daughter, my 2-year-old husband and Ruth.

One family favorite was her wartime Strawberry Shortcake. It was made with a scant cup of this and that—sugar and other commodities were rationed—and a pint of strawberries that she could buy, during the war, for mere pennies.

One summer shortly before she died we were all gathered around the table. The strawberry shortcake was served. Frank took a bite, looked up and said, “Betty, in 40 years this is the worst shortcake you ever made.” Betty later reckoned she’d forgotten the baking powder, but at the time, she simply burst into tears.

Even today, when I serve this dessert, as I do often, my husband and I cannot take a second bite without saying, “Betty, in 40 years this is the worst shortcake you ever made.” I’m proud that we loved both Frank and Betty enough to remember them exactly as they were.

Here is Betty’s recipe, which serves 6 to 8.

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