How to Make a Trench Cake: WW1 Survival Food

Taylor Roatch
By Taylor Roatch January 19, 2018 10:11

How to Make a Trench Cake: WW1 Survival Food

During the Great War, trench cakes, like the one I’ll show you how to make, were made from a family’s rations to be sent out to the front lines for their soldiers. While making trench cake is a wonderful, heartfelt act of remembrance for the lives lost in WW1, there’s a little more we can learn from the way these soldier’s loved ones used their meager stores to help support the men on the front lines.

Related: My Famine Food Storage Menu

They Were Resourceful

Despite war time rations that meant that sometimes families went to bed hungry and luxury food items being tough to lay hands on, British women came up with a way to make a tasty cake from what was available to them. Eggs were precious and not regularly available, so vinegar was substituted instead. Fats were issued in small quantities, so dried fruits were used to help the cake stay moist for a while. Flour was rationed, so the cake was created to be small and compact. These factors made these cakes perfect for shipping from Britain to France because they were little, dense, and they were still tasty a week later.

It’s likely that many ingredients were substituted based on what was available at the time. For instance, the brown sugar in this recipe was likely hard for most families to come by, even though it is a small amount. Governments suggested that people substituted sugar syrups like molasses and honey in lieu of granulated sugar because it was so rare and needed for the war effort.

They Understood the Importance of Morale

Can you imagine how wonderful a homemade cake would be after eating mostly canned food, stale bread, and super-processed beef for a long period of time? Even if it wasn’t a luxurious cake by any means, a little dessert plus the fact that a treat like this could help remind soldiers that their loved ones were well and that they were missed and appreciated would go a long way in helping soldiers keep up the fight on the dreariest of days in the trenches.

Related:10 Long Shelf-Life Canned Foods Every Prepper Should Consider Stockpiling

They Understood that To Make Do Was a Virtue

Because rationing was necessary to ensure there was enough food and other supplies available to the troops fighting for their safety, people were forced to get by with less. They carried on, though, finding ways to make what was available to them stretch far enough to feed their families, warm their homes, and so on. Using less was a patriotic thing to do, which is hard to imagine in a country such as ours, where capitalism means that the it’s more patriotic to buy more than it is to do without.

Related:11 Food Storage Lessons Learned from WWI

How to Make Trench Cake

Chances are, you have most if not all the ingredients you need already at home to make one of these cakes. They were simply made, put together like many other basic cake recipes out there, then wrapped in brown paper and shipped off to the troops.

Ingredients

These ingredients have been translated over from original British trench cake recipes to American units of measurement to help save you some time.ingredients

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ C margarine
  • 1 tsp vinegar (I used white vinegar, but you could substitute ACV if you please)
  • ½ C milk
  • 1/3 C + 1 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1/3 C + 1 TBSP currants (I substituted raisins because currants are hard to come by in the States)
  • Spices (They used whatever they had on hand, but nutmeg, lemon zest, ginger, and cinnamon are commonly used in trench cakes)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Mix flour and cocoa together in a medium bowl.
  3. Incorporate margarine into the dry mixture from step 2 using a pastry cutter or simply a fork will do.ingredients step 2
  4. Add in vinegar, baking soda, and milk together and mix quickly into the margarine/dry ingredients mixture.ingredients step 1
  5. Mix in sugar and your dried fruit.ingredients step 5
  6. Pour batter into a well-greased small cake pan. I used a springform pan that is even smaller than a normal 8 in. round cake pan because the recipe makes such a small cake. I didn’t want it to be to thin and therefore dry out even quicker. This baby is supposed to be baked to last, remember?ingredients step 6ingredients step 7
  7. Bake for 1 hour (maybe even less, check it as you go). The original recipe says up to two hours, but that seemed like an awful long time to leave such a small cake in the oven, so I went ahead and pulled it out after an hour since it was done well based on the toothpick test. Perhaps the extra oven time was meant to make it super tough so it traveled better?ingredients step 8
  8. This is how the baked cake looked like:     trench cake cut

Making one of these cakes is a great way to help children understand the sacrifices people made in war and to always remember those who lost their lives in all the wars in our country’s history. Looking back at times gone by has the potential to keep us from repeating the mistakes of our past. The British government actually suggested to parents and educators several years ago that they make these cakes with kids to help their students understand and remember the sacrifices made.

What can preppers or survivalists learn from old timey recipes like this one for trench cake, you might be asking yourself. First off, becoming familiar with recipes like this one, which has no real fresh ingredients at all, can help you learn to live out of your preps. It can teach you to substitute the foods you eat now for foods you’d be able to make out of your pantry alone.

It can help you to see that small indulgences are worth including in your preps. You may take away from making trench cake, so long as you’ve kept in mind the original intent of these cakes, that morale boosters are a crucial part of your preps. Living with less is really hard to do when you don’t have much to live for at all.

Conclusion

All lessons aside, this cake is pretty delicious for the limited ingredients that it uses. My family really enjoyed not only learning about the history of trench cake, but also enjoyed eating it after we finished baking it together.

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Taylor Roatch
By Taylor Roatch January 19, 2018 10:11
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14 Comments

  1. StumpY January 19, 18:34

    Is this where fruitcake got its start or is this just a spin-off of fruitcake.

    Reply to this comment
    • Homesteader January 20, 02:40

      Fruitcake has been around since Roman times. This is what I would call a “make-do cake”, that is, using whatever you have to make something that resembles a cake.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Shirley January 19, 21:40

    So how much do I use of each of those spices listed?…..I don’t have much luck with just guessing!! ;=)

    Reply to this comment
    • Homesteader January 19, 22:59

      I would add maybe 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of one of them, then taste the batter, and adjust from there. With chocolate in the batter, cinnamon or orange zest would go well with it.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Knotter January 19, 23:46

    They probably used Zante currants , and are available from Sunmaid…and longer baking time is to have less moisture for less chance of spoilage.
    Ibase this on my study of 18th and 19th century cooking

    Reply to this comment
  4. Silverbullet January 20, 00:41

    Longer baking after its already done removes more moisture and causes the cake to last longer.

    Reply to this comment
  5. BecCreates1 January 20, 03:23

    This requires milk. How is that ‘no real fresh ingredients’? I know you can get tinned or tetra pack milk but wouldn’t it make more sense to use condensed milk and omit some sugar?

    Reply to this comment
  6. AllyFancy January 20, 05:17

    I can’t wait to share this recipe with my daughter-in-law and 12-yr-old granddaughter. They do a lot of experimental baking, trying out ideas that will allow their SHTF food to last a long time. The best part is that my granddaughter is already a major history buff, too. This is going to go over big-time! Thanks for sharing. (I’m heading to my own kitchen right now!)

    Reply to this comment
  7. pelagiaeast January 21, 13:26

    I, too, was wondering about the milk because I don’t see it in the photos, but maybe that is powdered milk? If so, then it would need the 1/2 cup to be water, right?
    Thanks for the spices amounts you suggested. I, too, tend to be too generous with spices.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Homesteader January 21, 15:31

    There’s been the question of why milk is in this recipe. I’ve researched milk usage in the early 1900’s as best I could and it appears that until about 1915 or 1916 when rationing in England began, milk was plentiful. We officially entered the war in 1917 and Armistice declared 11-11-1918, so the rationing didn’t seem to last more than 2 or 3 years then. Also, a lot of people lived on or near farms then, so milk would have been available. Plus, people didn’t seem to consume milk then the way we do today.

    If anyone has any more, or even contradictory, information on this, I’d love to hear it. Like I said, I researched it as best I could.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Rick Fortune February 5, 18:35

    Tried the recipe by the steps shown. But instead of the 8 inch spring form pan, I used a #10 can (coffee can) which is 6 inches. Came out great! Though I wouldn’t want it any thinner. With or without cream cheese, everyone who tried it, loved it.

    Reply to this comment
  10. lc65 February 23, 16:45

    Speaking of fruit cake, anybody have a good recipe for that ? Don’t they last forever ?

    Reply to this comment
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