Are you ready for Boiled Raisin Cake as the Ukraine war drags on?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 4, 2023
Raisin cake. Photo by Schnäggli. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Eggs are becoming the newest contraband at America’s border with Mexico. In Britain, the cost of staple foodstuffs such as bread and pasta and even beer is rising, amid wheat shortages. Energy prices are also pushing up costs.

The largest ground war in Europe since 1945 continues apace and is expected to intensify with a Russian spring offensive and a fierce Ukrainian fight back with German-made Leopard tanks. Russia’s hideous war on Ukraine has affected exports from two key suppliers of the world’s wheat and grains, pushing up the price of chicken feed, even as chicken farmers, like the rest of us, pay more for the same amount of energy they used before the February 24, 2022 invasion.

And then there is the outbreak of a very contagious avian flu.

Eggs are becoming a delicacy and I don’t mean caviar (ie sturgeon eggs).

In the US, this is likely to force an unpleasant reckoning because Americans eat a lot of eggs. According to the US Department of Agriculture, last year, Americans consumed an average of 278 eggs per person last year, which is practically one a day.

In Britain, at least one supermarket plans to continue with egg-rationing because of persistent “industry wide issues” that go back months.

So what does one do?

By all accounts, plant-based eggs don’t cut it. There’s no point raising your own chickens to lay for you – the price of feed is too high and townies, especially in the UK, won’t have the space. For Americans, getting contraband from Mexico – bootl-egg cartons – is a shaky supply line.

It’s possible that we may have to fall back on a staple of wartime cooking: eggless, flourless, butterless cake. (Recipe below, courtesy New England Today.)

This dreary sounding concoction goes under different names in different places. During the decade of the Great Depression (from 1929), it appeared as Depression Cake or Poor Man’s Cake in America, which also had recipes for something called War Cake. And during the American Civil War, there was a Boiled Raisin Cake, which relied on raisins, sugar and spice for flavour and eschewed scarce, expensive and nutritious commodities. The reasons for barely cake-like cake recipes were threefold: the ingredients cost too much, were in short supply and the small amounts available were needed to feed soldiers and others engaged in the war effort.

With no sign of Russia ending its hideous campaign in Ukraine, some might wonder if a Boiled Raisin Cake period may beckon for some parts of the world.

Also read:

The egg-spensive scramble and what it says about our interconnected world

Poor Man’s Cake (Depression Cake)

Submitted by Ruth Gagen of the Brentwood Historical Society in Brentwood, New Hampshire, this recipe for Poor Man’s Cake was first published in our 1996 book, Yankee Magazine’s Church Suppers and Potluck Dinners.

Yield: 12 to 15 servings


2 cups brown sugar

2 cups hot water

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening

1 package (15 ounces) raisins

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

3 cups all-purpose white flour

1 teaspoon baking soda


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, salt, shortening, raisins, and spices. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Sift together the flour and soda, add to the batter, and mix well. Pour into the pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan.