Monday, August 15, 2011

War Cakes & Depression Cakes, and Wartime Cookery

Many old cookbooks have one or more different versions of a 'war cake' or depression cake'. These cakes were specially created to bake without eggs, butter, milk, and sometimes even sugar, as all these ingredients were saved for the soldiers during the war. It may seem like such a sacrifice now (image us now going without any of these items), but very patriotic all the same.

In my trusty The American Woman's Cook Book from 1938, there is even an entire section on Wartime Cookery. In that chapter, the book details why certain things were left out of recipes or from kitchens (or about to be left out in the future during imminent wartime):
  • Metal shortages make it so products cannot be shipped or packaged in tins.
  • Fats and oil rationing was so there would be enough for use in soaps and gunpowder.
  • Manufacture and shipping of goods was disrupted due to shortages in manpower.
During the wartime era, cooking was still in force, obviously for feeding the family, but creative cooking was also big to utilize what you had in ways to make the situation less dire. Most recipes and menus in this time period used fish, eggs, poultry, and soft cheeses. Variety meats (organ meats like liver, sweetbreads, kidneys, tripe & heart) were used at home since the larger cuts of meat were used for the troops. Vegetables and salads were extended with any leftovers from meats. Honey, maple or brown sugar, molasses, and sorghum were all used in place of refined white sugar in breads and pastry. Most often, women tended their own gardens for fresh vegetables, and raised poultry for meat and eggs.

Every time I read a wartime recipe, I'm ever thankful I don't have to cook these recipes for my children for the reasons other mothers did during that time period.

Here is a version of a War Cake: Canada War Cake. This one comes from E. Haldeman-Julius' Little Blue Book No. 1179 "How to Make Desserts, Pies and Pastries." I like this one, as it gives a good explanation of the necessity of the baking soda to the molasses, and why baking powder may be better with certain molasses types.
Canada War Cake (Without Butter, Eggs or Milk)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 2 cups seeded raisins
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour

    Mix sugar, shortening, water, raisins, and salt; boil five minutes; cool, and add spices, soda, and flour sifted together, beat well; pour into a greased, paper-lined pan, and bake in a slow oven one hour.

    The amount of soda in these recipes is based upon the use of old-fashioned jug molasses; canned molasses varies greatly in acidity and, especially when freshly opened, requires little or no soda. If canned molasses is used, therefore, baking powder should wholly or partly take the place of soda.

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