Great Depression Cake from 1930’s

One of the women in my Women’s Club asked me if I had any information how our grandmothers managed during the Great Depression.  Just what did they serve their families?  As a matter of fact, at one time in my life I had about 20 pamphlets from American companies touting their products from that era.  Sadly, they have disappeared in my many moves, and I miss them.  However, the internet has lots of information that will fill us in with this information.

My friend had this recipe from her grandmother’s collection.  She didn’t remember ever having the cake.  Since her family is facing gluten-free living for one of her children, I offered to make the cake for our meeting.  She was delighted!  Now several of the women are doing research and trying new (but old) family recipes.  Some of the ingredients make me giggle.  Many call for heavy cream–a luxury now, but so available on farms and ranches in the 1930’s.  Learning a bit about how the products available in various areas of the United States were packaged and shipped to markets is very interesting.  For example, dried fruits became an American staple in kitchens all over the US during the depression.  Fruit stayed sweet and when dried were shelf-stable for a long time.  This recipe uses 2 cups of raisins!  That seems like a lot to us now, but it seems that was normal to people then.  Dried dates from California became available all over the country during that time!  Lots of recipes use dates or raisins for sweetness.

The recipe for the Great Depression Cake that my friend shared says it can be served as dessert or for breakfast!  It touts the cinnamon, clove and nutmeg flavors as perfect for the colder months.  Here is the recipe, made gluten-free.  It is delicious.

Great Depression Cake from 1930's
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups Baking Free™ gluten-free All Purpose Flour (248 g)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Powdered sugar for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9 X 9-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang for removing baked cake.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups water, raisins, brown sugar, vegetable oil and the spices. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile mix the baking soda and salt in 2 teaspoons water and stir until completely dissolved. Combine flour and baking powder is their own bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. After the raisin mixture has cooled, add the soda and salt mixture. It will bubble up, so stir well. Add the flour mixture and stir until a stiff dough has formed. Spoon into the prepared baking pan, making sure the raisins are well distributed.
  5. Smooth the top and bake cake in preheated oven for about 55 minutes. Until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Remove cake from oven to cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Then using the foil, remove cake from pan and allow to cool.
  7. Serve warm as dessert or with morning coffee. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Makes 12 squares.