5 July, 2017
The days surrounding Independence Day (for any country) are always a good time to do some delving into your nation’s history. For me, as an American, I’ve done my fair share of reading on periods of war from the 1700s through to current times. A period that holds a lot of personal interest for me is the 1940s and World War II.
World War II is a time of particular interest to me because my paternal grandfather — my Poppa (whose favorite oatmeal raisin cookies are on this site) — is a World War II United States Marine veteran. He fought on Iwo Jima, on the Pacific Front, late in the war. Growing up, he often told me the story of how he got shot (minus a lot of detail, of course). Now, as an adult, I’ve been fortunate enough to hear many more stories, in full detail, of his time in the Marines and his life after Iwo Jima.
After taking a bullet to his left arm while out on a scouting mission, he was flown to a military hospital in Guam, and then to Hawai’i, where he recovered from the chest wound (the bullet went in his left arm, which was holding his rifle, and right on through to his chest, passing an inch below his heart). After his recovery, he served as a patrolman, a bouncer, and a military policeman on the “Big Island” (as he often calls it while telling his stories), in Idaho (he was stationed at a base there for a while), then in Virginia, and finally back up to New York. He worked with the canine unit, alongside his partner, Redbird (a beautiful Irish setter). Once he and Redbird were discharged from the MP, they moved back up to New York, where Poppa took up work for the school. He took night classes and worked during the day, often driving big trucks and large machinery (because, as he’ll proudly let you know, he had to learn to drive a tank while in the service, so he was the only one who had a license to operate such machinery). Eventually, he and Nana met while working at Macy’s, and the rest is history!
Now that you know a bit of my family’s history, let’s talk about some food history surrounding today’s recipe.
My great aunt’s daughter found this recipe for war cake tucked away somewhere and lost to the ages until very recently. War cake was common during World War II, as food rationing was part of everyday life at the time. The idea was that this cake could be made with items that were relatively standard pantry items (water or soup, raisins, sugar, flour, lard, etc.). While I’ve updated a couple of the ingredients (since I don’t tend to keep lard lying around), the recipe is pretty much as it was written by Poppa’s older sister way back when.
2 cups Raisins (or 1 cup raisins + 1 cup dried cherries)
2 cups Tomato soup
2 cups Sugar
2 tbsp Butter (or use lard if you have it and want to be authentic)
2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground cloves
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
3 cups Flour, sifted
1 “heaping” tsp Baking soda
1/2 tsp Salt (omit if using salted butter)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a tube pan.
In a small saucepan, combine the tomato soup, raising, sugar, butter, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and bring them to a boil for 3-5 minutes and stir often. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Once the ingredients in the pan have cooled, add it to the rest of the ingredients and mix everything together until combined.
Pour the batter into the greased tube pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Let the cake cool before removing it from the pan, slice, and enjoy (it’s especially good with whipped topping).