Canada War Cake

Food can not only reflect cultural difference, but time periods as well. When war cast its shadow over Canada, every element of society saw it’s effects. The economy, the workforce, the political sphere, social relations, and even the food that Canadians were making reflected the troubled times that they were facing.

I think I’ll jump right into this recipe, but keep in mind these words concerning food resources found in the archival material used: “You know it is up to us to make this war effort count, and unless we try to the utmost (as our enemies are doing) there are dark days ahead.”

The Recipe

This recipe for Canada War Cake comes from an archived copy of the Windsor Daily Star, dated March 19, 1942. This date tells us that this recipe was published during the second World War, but the text under the title notes that it was also “from last war”. This recipe was found in a column titled, “This Week’s Best War-Time Recipes” with two other dessert suggestions that would optimally conserve money and food for the war effort.

The recipe reads as follows:

Canada War Cake

2 cups sugar
2 cups hot water
3 Tablespoons lard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each of cloves and cinnamon
1 package seedless raisins

Boil this together for 5 minutes and let cool. Then add 4 cups flour with 1 teaspoon soda dissolved (in 1 tablespoon water). I add also 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Mrs. Graham

The Process

When making the cake batter, I followed the recipe exactly as stated without difficulty. The only modifications that I made was halfing the recipe (due to an insufficient amount of flour on my part) and the omission of raisins, mostly because I didn’t have any and I thought it wouldn’t be too much of a loss if I didn’t put them in.

The consistency of mixture itself reminded me less of the smooth, runny cake batters that I’m used to, and more of a thick muffin batter. The thickness led me to believe that this was going to be a dense cake. So, I decided to opt out of a traditional cake pan in favour of a hardier loaf pan.

Once the batter was ready, I had to work out what to do about baking it.

Although there wasn’t an indication of the temperature at which to bake the recipe, I decided that 350F was a moderate and common enough temperature for cakes. As for the time, I simply put on a timer for 20 minutes, then checked it every 5-10 minutes. Overall, it took about 55 minutes to fully bake.

When it came out, I put a maple glaze on top that I made from powdered sugar, milk, and maple syrup, just in case the “cake” was bland. Even with the glaze, I have to admit that the loaf was… not great. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t necessarily all that good.

First off, calling this baked good a “cake” is more than generous. The density and texture resembled that of a bread. Second, if I had to describe it, I’d say it tasted like plain oatmeal with a hint of cinnamon. It was nothing special by modern standards, but it has to be taken in context.

When I tested out the “cake” on my friend, she said, “If I was cold and wet, living in the trenches somewhere, this would bring me joy”.

Take that review for what you will.

Here’s how the recipe looked when I made it:

Canada Wartime Cake

1 cups sugar
1 cups hot water
1 1/2 Tablespoons lard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each of cloves and cinnamon
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium saucepan and boil together for 5 minutes. Let cool. Transfer the liquid to a medium mixing bowl and mix in flour, baking soda (dissolved),and baking powder until smooth. Transfer batter to a greased loaf pan and cook for 55 minutes at 350F or until a toothpick/cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the loaf.

The Analysis

Canada’s Butter Opportunity!
[Canada], [ca. 1918]
Creator unknown
Canada Food Board

The lack of ingredients such as eggs, milk, and butter, in this recipe is indicative of a conservational time period. World War I, the Great Depression, and the Second World War all had similar restrictions on food.  These events created a strict policy of conservation on the types and amounts of food that were allowed to the public, either for financial or patriotic reasons.  During the wars, there was a strong emphasis on conservation and stretching the ingredients that you had to work with. Therefore, the recipes that surfaced during this time directly reflected this notion of economical dishes that would conserve red meat, and other animal products.

We are saving you, YOU save FOOD
[Canada], [ca. 1918]
Creator unknown
Canada Food Board

The low moisture of this cake and it’s minimal use of ingredients that easily spoiled meant that it could keep well. Many of the recipes that came out of this period were either in larger quantities or could easily be made into double batches with the intent that women would make enough for their family, then the Red Cross could send the remainder of the food overseas to be used by the troops.


The “Tried, Tested, and True: A Retrospective on Canadian Cookery, 1867-1917” online exhibit from the University of Guelph Archives:

The “Canadian Posters from the First World War” exhibit from the Archives of Ontario:

The “Posters and Broadsides in Canada” collection, found online at Library and Archives Canada:

Mosby, Ian. “We are What We Ate: Canada’s History in Cuisines.” The Globe and Mail. 13 March, 2017.


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