Brown Cake



Source of recipe

This cake comes from the Aberystwyth 1917 War Hints and Recipes . It’s an odd recipe because, although it contains no eggs (easily available in 1917 Aberystwyth, surely?), it does contain vast quantities of spices and orange peel (!) which would have to be imported by ships endangered by the German submarine blockade, so I’m not sure how it helped the war effort.

The raising agents are baking soda and cream of tartar ( baking powder provides a modern equivalent ) mixed with buttermilk or ‘sweet ‘( i.e. new ) milk. This is a combination used today in making scones.

The quantities of spice are phenomenal – an ounce of cinnamon, an ounce of ground ginger and a whole nutmeg! I was nonplussed about the orange peel and used candied peel instead – surely the recipe couldn’t call for orange peel? The orange zest is lovely but the white pith inside is horribly bitter.

brown-cake-1917-texture-2The cake took two hours to cook at about 180° for the first hour and 160° for the second hour. The outside was very solid but the inside was nicely cooked. I found this cake overwhelmingly spicy but tried it on members of Ceredigion Local History Forum, and no-one said it was horrible. I suspect it may keep well if placed in an airtight tin.

Miss Marshall, who donated this recipe, may have been Ethel, the ‘clerk and telegraphist’ who was presumably working for the Post Office . She was originally from Barnsley, Yorkshire and appears in the 1911 census living in Northgate Street, Aberystwyth.




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Poor Man’s Pie




This 1913 recipe was contributed by Marianne Farrow who had come to Aberystwyth in 1901 with her husband George, a Company Sergeant Major in the Cardiganshire Artillery. By 1911 they had six children ranging in age from 17 to 6 years of age.

As her husband’s income was probably only about 6 shillings a week, Mrs. Farrow might be accustomed to producing economical tasty recipes like this.


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Ann Pugh’s Cake


Ref. ABY/WH/2/1/2: Recipe book containing newspaper clippings and handwritten recipes. Includes ‘economy’ recipes from the First World War. First entry is dated 17 February 1917.

Transcript of recipe
Half quartern of dough – mix 2 eggs with it first then 4 oz. of butter and 2oz. of lard. Beat into the dough quite cold. Afterwards add ½ lb currants, 6 oz. sugar and a small quantity of spice. No liquid of any kind.

This cake appears to be more like a bun-loaf or lardy-cake. It is made by adding to a basic dough mixture. I expect you could cut some corners by using a white bread mix, then adding the extra ingredients.

A quartern loaf weighed 4lbs, so we guess this recipe involves 2 lbs of dough. You could halve the quantities given below if using a commercial 500g / 1lb bread mix.

No indication is given of cooking times or heat, but following the timing and oven heat for a 1lb (or 500g) loaf should work – about 35 minutes at 180°-200° (reduce accordingly for fan ovens).


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Banana Cakes


Banana cakes recipe


Banana cakes come from the St Michael and All Angels Church Xmas Tree Recipe Book, Aberystwyth 1913, a compilation of recipes suggested by members of the congregation and their friends.  Miss Hughes of Dinas Terrace, Trefechan suggests they are ‘very nutritious’, so perhaps we can see them as a proto-energy bar.  ‘Paisley Flour’ was a proprietary brand of baking powder produced by the firm Brown and Polson which was based in Paisley.





The banana cakes turned out like small, sweet and banana-flavoured rock cakes. It may be that our modern ‘fair sized banana’ is larger than its 1916 counterpart, because the mixture was too runny to be ‘cut into small cakes’ as the recipe suggests. I cooked them at 180° and after twenty minutes they still looked pale and sad, so maybe a hotter oven was used.



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Excellent Family Soup


The title of this soup from 1913 made me smile. Is the soup excellent or the family?

The soup relies on extracting the flavour from the meat and vegetables which are then discarded (or used elsewhere) and the remaining liquor is thickened before serving. It involves the use of 3½ quarts (or seven pints) of water – a very big pan is necessary – and a comparatively small amount of other ingredients.

This soup uses sago for thickening. Some people may remember sago pudding , which was a popular milk pudding for children in the middle of the twentieth century. Children who didn’t like sago (and its near-relation tapioca) said it resembled frogspawn.

Shin of beef is from the upper part of the foreleg.

The final flavourings of mace (which is a spice, and comes from the lacy covering of nutmegs ) and cayenne pepper, which is red and fiery, is a bit unexpected and exciting!


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German cake


We have two versions of this cake already! The basic recipe is that for Victoria sponge (the weight of the eggs in sugar, butter and flour) but we would usually use self-raising flour in a modern Victoria sponge whereas at the time this recipe was published ‘flour’ just meant what we now call ‘plain flour’. The phenomenal amount of beating to which the batter is subjected (half an hour in all!) was intended to bring air into the mixture to help it rise when cooking.


Version One was cooked as one cake – it took far longer than the suggested half an hour and eventually took between 40 – 60 minutes at 180°. It rose to a nice volcanic peak and when cut had the texture of Madeira Cake. We tried it out on members of the Ceredigion Local History Forum and one, who has a German relation, said it was like German ‘sand cake’.


Version 1 cut

I have not been able to find any details of M. Langenbach of Caerleon House who contributed this recipe to the St. Michael’s Christmas Tree Recipe Book in 1913. Maybe she was something to do with the University?


Version 2

Version Two of the recipe was prepared by Helen at Caesar’s Café in North Parade, who loves to try new (and old!) and unusual recipes. She made the cake in two tins like a traditional sponge. It rose beautifully. We’ve handed out samples at Canolfan Rheidol, the council offices in Aberystwyth.


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