Mum's Christmas Cake (1940's Style)

Tis the season to be jolly! In the days before we had cars to collect heavy groceries, and we didn’t have refrigerators and deep freezers, Christmas preparation was packed into a far shorter period of time. Mind you milk, bread and greengroceries were delivered to your house (usually by horse and cart - very environmentally friendly), and we had three butchers within a half mile radius.

This recipe was handwritten by my Mother when rationing was in place. Ignoring recipes with whale meat, her Christmas Cake recipe caught my eye. Ingredients being scarce, this cake is not as rich as many we cook today. Somewhat surprisingly, a footnote tells me this was my parent's wedding cake recipe too.

Food tradition: Christmas cake (1940’s style!)

Originally plum porridge, which dates back to the beginnings of Christianity, was eaten on Christmas Eve to line the stomach after a day's fasting. Spices, dried fruits and honey started being added to the porridge mixture and this eventually became the Christmas Pudding. By the 16th century, butter and eggs were added, and the oatmeal replaced with wheat flour. The mixture was then baked as a cake. However, this was baked only in the Great Houses, as not many ordinary people had ovens.

Ingredients - no metric equivalents - after all, we did win the war!

6ozs brown sugar ½lb currants
¼lb chopped almonds 6ozs butter
2oz raisins ¼ teaspoon mixed spice
3 eggs 3oz peel
1 tablespoon black treacle ½lb flour
2oz glacé cherries (quartered, washed and coated in flour)  
1 glass brandy ½lb sultanas

Method (using Mum’s words)

  1. Soften the butter then add the sugar and beat to a cream.
  2. Add each egg separately and beat until the mixture is stiff.
  3. Stir the spice into the flour and sieve both into the mixture. Fold in gently.
  4. Add the chopped almonds, fruit, treacle and brandy and mix well.
  5. Transfer to a well lined 8 inch round deep cake tin.
  6. Bake for 3 hours 45 minutes at Regulo 1. (140ºC/275ºF).
  7. Allow to cool in the tin for around 30 minutes. Then turn out on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
  8. Once cold, wrap in greaseproof paper and keep in a tin.
  9. If possible, feed the cake regularly with brandy.

My Mum’s notebook also details how to make the marzipan. As the 1940s version seems to consist mainly of semolina and soya flour, I think you will agree that almonds really do make the best marzipan.


Christmas cake under rationing 1940's