boiled raisin depression cake photo

Boiled Cake (aka Depression Cake, War Cake, Poor Man’s Cake)

This cake is commonly known as a ” Depression Era” cake. These cakes are also known as “war cakes” and the popularity of recipes date back to World War I; some recipes for “boiled cakes” have been found in cookbooks dating back to the Civil War.

The recipe for this cake contains no milk, butter, or eggs, which meant it continued to be a favorite of cooks in the years after WWI when the US experienced especially trying times during the 1930’s and The Great Depression. This cake took on the popular moniker of “Poor Man’s Cake” as a result.

This recipe should not be mistaken for another on my blog. “Brown Stone Front Cake” which does include butter, eggs, and milk. This Boiled Cake is also known as “Boiled Raisin Cake” — “boiled” referring to the step of boiling raisins with sugar and spices to make a syrup for use in the recipe.

After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, families struggled to stretch their budgets and to “make do” with ingredients they could afford or grow. Desserts become a luxury for most families, so cooks looked for alternatives to luxurious dessert ingredients, especially milk, eggs and butter.

Inventive substitutions were the goal of nearly every cook and baker. “Mock” foods like “mock apple pie” became a familiar taste and welcomed dish on the table in many homes.

If a cook did not have butter, shortening took its place; water stood in for milk, baking powder for eggs. Cooks in households across the country became experts at making something for nothing and prided themselves on feeding their family for just a few dollars a week.

Radio shows and women’s periodicals played a large role in circulating recipes of the era during the Great Depression. “Betty Crocker’s Cooking Hour” was one such show that provided women with budget-friendly recipes.

This cake can also be baked in 2 loaf pans, or a a Bundt pan. When making this cake, make sure to allow the cooked raisin mixture to cool completely before using.

Boiled Cake (aka Depression Cake, War Cake, Poor Man’s Cake)

Recipe by Lori Fogg, A Coalcracker In The KitchenCourse: RecipesCuisine: DessertsDifficulty: Intermediate

A popular cake from WWI and The Great Depression that uses no eggs, butter, or milk.


  • 1 cup vegetable shortening

  • 2 cups water

  • 2 cups dark raisins

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 cups all purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda


  • In a saucepan combine shortening, water, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until COMPLETELY cool.
  • Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, a Bundt pan, or 9 x 5-inch 2 loaf pans. Set aside.
  • Stir the flour and baking soda into the cooled raisin mixture and mix until just combined and flour is mostly incorporated.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes for a 9 x 13-inch pan or until the top of the cake is just firm to the touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  • Traditionally served un-frosted.