Imagine. Britain is at war. Rommel’s Afrika Korps have been defeated at El Alamein, the Russians have encircled Hitler’s 6th Army outside Stalingrad and on the Home Front, Santa is about to make his expected appearance. Restricted by strict food rationing your challenge is to bake a small Christmas cake, covered in marzipan and seasonally decorated. You are to do it without any of the following ingredients… eggs, brandy, candied peel, nutmeg, almonds, glace cherries, zest of orange or lemon, brown sugar, icing sugar, currants, sultanas, raisins, unsalted butter, marzipan or anything else suggested by Delia.
Please note: You may be baking this cake in the middle of an air raid.
Here are your ingredients:-
- 1 large carrot finely grated
- 2-3 tablespoons of golden syrup
- 3 oz sugar
- 4 oz margarine or butter
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
- ½ teaspoon of almond essence (or 1 teaspoon of rum extract)
- 6 oz dried or mixed fruit
- 12 oz self raising flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 small teacup of slightly warm tea or coffee (with milk in)
For the marzipan substitute:-
- 4 tablespoons mashed potato
- 1 teaspoon white of egg
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Few drops of almond essence.
By Christmas 1942, wartime food rationing was at its height. The weekly allocation was four ounces of bacon and/or ham, six ounces of butter and/or margarine, two ounces of tea, eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of cooking fats and meat to the value of 1/10d (9p), 3 ounces of cheese, 4 ounces of jam or preserves (including mincemeat), 2 pints of milk, and about 3 eggs a month. From the beginning of December, everyone received a monthly additional allocation of 16 ‘points’ for rationed items like luncheon meat or tinned salmon. In short supply or unavailable during Christmas 1942 were turkeys, gin, sherry, icing sugar, chocolate, fruit, cigars along with wrapping paper and toys!
All through the war things kept ‘appearing’ in our house. One Christmas a whole unopened box of Mars Bars. Another time a seven pound tin of butter which we kept in the bath. When I asked Dad where these things came from he’d say he had ‘bought them off a feller at work’ or ‘off the ships’ so matter of fact that it never occurred to me till after the war that my father may have ‘received goods knowing them to have been stolen’ - from the Black Market!
THE METHOD - THE CAKE
Please remember that in the event of an air raid the gas and electricity supply may be interrupted, maybe for hours… days or longer!
- Cook the grated carrot and syrup over a low heat for a few minutes
- Cream the sugar and margarine until light and fluffy
- Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the syrup mixture and then beat it into the sugar and margarine as if adding an egg, bit by bit
- Add the vanilla and almond essence (or vanilla and rum extract)
- Add the dried mixed fruit
- Fold in the sieved flour and cinnamon
- Add some of the tea or coffee if needs be as the batter needs to be thick but moist
- Put the mixture into a greased meatloaf tin
- Smooth the top leaving a slight depression in the centre to stop the cake from rising too much during cooking
- Place into the pre-heated oven at 200C for 15 minutes
- Reduce temperature to 160C and cook for 45 minutes (cover with foil if cake is getting too dark)
- Cool and decorate with mock marzipan.
THE METHOD - THE ‘MOCK’ MARZIPAN
- Mix mashed potato and all other ingredients together.
- Spread top of cake while still hot with honey or a little blackberry jelly.
- Press marzipan out to size of cake, put on top and press into shape.
- Pinch up round the edges and score with a fork.
- Put back into oven and brown up. While still hot sprinkle a circle of grated chocolate in the centre (if available)
I woke early, my brother was asleep, so I made sure the blackout curtains were over the windows and with my torch I had a little peek at my presents. I had a pair of slacks (Mummy made them from a blanket), a paint book, a pencil-box and a very nice handkerchief, a book of poetry from Mummy, a bar of chocolate, a whole orange. We had a lovely breakfast, fried bread and a nice egg. We’re both very lucky, Richard and me, because Mummy and Daddy don’t care much for eggs, or sweets.
GIRL AGED 10
The Ministry of Food had some top tips for decorating cakes and puddings…‘A Christmassy sparkle is easy to add to sprigs of holly or evergreen for use on puddings. Dip your greenery in a strong solution of Epsom salts. When dry it will be beautifully frosted.’ They also had some ideas for decorations around the house! ‘Although there were no gay bowls of fruit, vegetables have such jolly colours. The cheerful glow of carrots, the rich crimson of beetroot, the emerald of parsley - it looks as delightful as it tastes.’
The butcher had left me a little lumpy bit of chilled pork, with only one tiny bone in it, although it was evidently off the shoulder. I made a stuffing, cut a pocket in the meat with a sharp knife, put the stuffing in it and held it with a skewer then baked it with potatoes round. There was cabbage and apple sauce, plum pudding and sauce with a dash of rum, and everything was perfection. We even had four lovely roses on the table, which bloomed last week. I’ve never had roses so late.
NELLA LAST - CHRISTMAS DAY, Saturday 25th December 1943
To get a sense of what it was like to live through a wartime Christmas here is a link to a film made in 1941 by the Ministry of Information.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas!
– from Martyn Day
Credits: The quotes came from “Children of the Blitz” by Robert Westall and “Nella Last’s War” - the WW2 Diary of a Housewife 49.