Recently, I scrolled through Pinterest—as I often do—looking for recipes that I could try. A picture of a well-worn, yellowed piece of paper caught my eye. It was a handwritten recipe with the words “War Cake” written in a beautiful script across the top of the page.
I was intrigued by it and clicked on the link.
There, on a quilting website, I found a post from Marge Campbell of Littlefield, Texas, who recently used this recipe from her Aunt Almo Duncan Buren.
I’ve always loved history and especially the parts of historical events that don’t end up in textbooks.
War cake is one of those things. Recipes for cake during the World War I and II varied across different communities, but they had the same thing in common: they all use limited fats, limited milk and limited eggs, due to wartime shortages.
Much like depression-era cakes or desserts that people would make when times were rough, war cakes were something people could bake to help make life happier, despite having limited resources.
I read several articles on war cake. Many of the authors mentioned that not only was war cake something to be eaten at home in the States but something that was eaten on the front as well, when families would send care packages to their soldiers overseas.
Considering how dense and moist this cake was when I made it, I could see how it would easily survive the journey to Europe.
That being said, even with no tie to history, this cake is pretty darn good.
I did find it takes a deceivingly long time to make this than other types of cake you may have made before. That is because you make a raisin mixture to start off with that will need to be cooled before you can continue with the rest of the steps. For that reason, some people may have this recipe in their cookbooks as a boiled raisin cake, too.
If you want to see Campbell’s original post and the copy of her aunt’s recipe, you can go to https://www.quiltingboard.com/recipes-f8/war-cake-wwii-recipe-t169745.html. I doubled the spices when I made it and added a lot more raisins.
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- 2 cups hot water
- 2 tablespoons shortening or lard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons cloves
- 10 ounces seedless raisins
- 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
- 3 cups flour
- Begin by bringing the brown sugar, water, shortening, salt, cinnamon, cloves and raisins to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, let it continue to boil for about five minutes, stirring to make sure everything is well combined.
- Remove the mixture from heat and let it cool completely before continuing to the next step.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Add the dissolved baking soda and flour to the raisin mixture and stir until completely combined.
- Divide the mixture evenly between two loaf pans, and bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Once the cakes are cooled enough to handle, remove them from the pans and cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.
I gave quite a bit of this cake away, and it got rave reviews. It’s a simple flavor profile, but I think that’s what makes it so good. It’s one of those desserts that just makes you feel satisfied.
It’s a good reminder that, even in hard times, people find ways to make life happy.
As I enjoyed my first piece of war cake, I imagined all of the different families around the United States who enjoyed the same recipe or ones like it while dealing with so much stress and worry in their lives.
It just goes to show that sometimes a good recipe can make us forget about our troubles for a while.
This piece first appeared in print on Feb. 8, 2018.
Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas and sponsored by Main Street Co. & Kitchen Corner in Newton, Kan. Visit their website at shopmainstco.com.