Tuesday, August 11, 2009

War Cake

I'm not a natural-born cook. I once caught my shirt on fire while cooking noodles, and twice I've boiled eggs dry and had them explode. The second time I had to clean the bits of egg out of the popcorn ceiling. It was hard.

I'm less intimidated by cooking now, but I still avoid recipes with any hint of complexity. I like them to be relatively quick, easy, and made with ingredients I already have on hand. I'm also interested in simple, old-fashioned recipes from various countries; what you might call peasant food.

For all these reasons, War Cake is my kind of recipe. It's just a bonus that we also happen to be in a recession right now.

So here's the background: War Cake, also known as Depression Cake or Poor Man's Cake, became common during the Great Depression and again in World War II, when rationing limited the supply of many baking staples. It uses no eggs, butter, or milk; which makes it a good choice for those who avoid those items for dietary reasons. It makes a nice, moist cake that holds together well and is good with both coffee and whiskey, as modeled by the Husband below. My old family recipe uses butter in place of the shortening, so someone was cheating a little bit. Although in truth I often do the same, and add a little vanilla as well. This, however, is the unvarnished, true-blue recipe.

2 cups raisins
2 cups water
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Boil raisins in water for 10 minutes (if you use a medium sauce pan you can mix the whole cake in it & avoid getting a mixing bowl dirty)
Add shortening and allow to cool
Stir in dry ingredients
Pour into greased & floured 9"x13" pan
Bake for 20 minutes


Gaby said...

Hi Tracy, I think they probably used butter (or lard) in our family because they always had cows and pigs even in the Depression and WWII. Shortening was probably been harder to come by, weird as that sounds.

Tracy Zhu said...

Gaby - Yeah, I didn't really think they were cheating on their rations. Just pointing out that the hallmark of the standard recipe is no butter-no milk-no eggs. There are of course, tons of variations on it. I found a Bosnian war cake that includes bread and cocoa powder, I think it's kind of a chocolaty bread pudding. I'll try that sometime.