Poor man's cake is also called a depression cake. This type of cake was cooked during the Great Depression. Due to hard times, the ingredients were limited to little or even no milk, butter, sugar or a few eggs. It was difficult to get all the necessary ingredients because they were expensive. There were similar pies or cakes and they were called “War Cakes.” They were prepared with little ingredients because of the same reasons or because most of the food was sent to soldiers. Depression cake has different names, for example, “poor man's cake,” "Milkless, Eggless, Butterless Cake," or even "Boiled Raisin Cake." People used to boil raisins with spices and some sugar in order to prepare a syrup that was used as a basis for the cake. Despite the absence of basic ingredients, some bakers managed to use butter for their poor man's cake. It has been detected that cake with boiled raisins dates back to the times of American Civil War.
History of Depression Cake Recipe
Poor man's cake or depression cake dates back to the First World War. During those times, it was called the “War cake.” In 1918, the United States Food Administration distributed a pamphlet, which was entitled “War Economy in Food.” The war cake can be found in this pamphlet in the list called “Recipes for Conservation Sweets.” It was emphasized in the United States Food Administration that reduction of sugar consumption is important during the war. It suggested replacing sugar with raisins, corn syrup and molasses.
In 1929, the Great Depression occurred in the United States of America because of the crash of the Stock Market. Many families had to stretch their family budgets. They had to cook their food with minimum ingredients. A lot of families limited their budget for food to 5$ per week. Most people perceived dessert as something luxurious and unaffordable. This is when the chocolate depression cake became popular because it was a good alternative to more expensive cakes that could not be cooked without milk, butter and eggs. The secret of the recipe simplicity was in ingredients substitution. For instance, milk was substituted with butter and baking powder was used instead of expensive eggs. The depression cake refers to bright examples of food substitution during the hard times in the United States of America. Some maids followed the example and used to cook mock fish, mock apple pies, etc.
Programs broadcasted on radio as well as journals played a significant role in recipes distribution during the period of the Great Depression. As a result, every woman knew how to make a cake with minimum ingredients. One of popular shows at those times was Betty Crocker’s Cooking Hour. Women had an opportunity to find out about budget-friendly recipes. Nutritionists as well as professional cooks were employed by General Mill to try different ways on how to, frankly speaking, “destroy” a real cake with ingredients omission or their reduction. Such journal as Loring Schuler’s Journal published cake recipes as well. They recommended using baking powder instead of eggs and buying cheap grains. M.F.K. Fisher's Book published the recipe of the "War Cake."
Poor Man's Cake Recipe Today
Nowadays depression cakes are prepared in modern America. A number of periodicals publish its recipe today.
Usually it is recommended to use the following ingredients:
- white sugar,
- corn syrup,
- brown sugar,
- water, strong coffee,
- apple juice,
- pitted prunes or dry raisins,
- unsifted flour,
- rye flour,
- baking powder,
- baking soda,
- chopped walnuts,
- pecans or almonds
- apples were cheaper than pears, thus they were used as substitution.
Step-by-Step Cake Recipe:
Preheat the oven to about 350°F. Grease the baking form or pan. Mix 1 cup of white sugar, 2 cups of brown sugar, 2 glasses of water, 4 cups of seedless raisins, 1 cup of shortening, 1 tea spoon of nutmeg, 1 tea spoon of cinnamon, half tea spoon of cloves, and 2 tea spoons of salt. Boil everything for about 3 minutes, and let it freeze.
Sift 4 cups of flour, 2 and a half of tsp of baking soda, and 2 tsp of baking powder. Add the mixture to the saucepan, and add 2 cups of chopped almonds or walnuts (optional). Bake the dough for about 45 minutes.
After it is baked, let it freeze. Then you can sprinkle the cake using powdered sugar.
You may find a lot of options on how to cook the depression cake. The cake can be versatile because people used to substitute the ingredients because of their unavailability or expensiveness.