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Trench cake doesn’t have the most appetising name neither does it give a clue to its contents. The name was given to a cake baked during the First World War by loved ones back home to send to soldiers fighting at the front in the trenches, hence the name Trench cake.

This year marks one hundred years since the start of the First World War.  One of the strongest symbols of this is the display of poppies at the Tower of London.  Each poppy signifies the fall of a soldier during the war.  The sea of poppies has grown each week and the final poppy was planted on Armistice Day, 11 November 2014.  A total of 888,246 ceramic poppies.

Each week we have driven past the Tower watching the sea of red poppies grow.  Knowing that each poppy signifies a fallen soldier certainly makes you stop and think.  For me I can’t help but think of my great grandmother (a widow) and her four sons serving in the First World War.  I cannot begin to imagine what her time waiting at home for news would have been like, and to be honest I have never really even considered the notion until now.

I decided to make the Trench cake mainly because I was curious as to how it tasted but also to try and connect in some with all the women and my great grandmother who would have made this cake to send to the front.  In some way I hoped the cake would connect me to hundred years ago.

This recipe does not have any eggs.  So how does it rise?  This process is done by the use of vinegar and bicarb of soda.  The other shocking fact is that the cost of posting this would have been 1 shilling and 7 pence, that is around £6-7 in today’s money.  So sending out four cakes would have been quite costly.  I wonder what Great grandmother did?

I did do some reading of other people making this cake such as Frances Quinn and Greedybots and noted the point of the white specks of flour appearing after baking.  I made sure I rubbed the butter into fine crumbs.  I also used dark brown Muscovado sugar to give the cake a dark appearance for a rich fruit cake appearance.

Tasting the cake was surprising because I wasn’t really expecting anything of any great merit.  I couldn’t detect the vinegar and the overall texture and taste were really good.  The flavour of the ground ginger certainly comes through.  I kept the cake for ten days to see how it would cope.  As the days went past it did become crumblier but still tasted good and lasted.  How it did in the trenches I don’t think we will ever know because no doubt it would have been shared around and so there would be no need to store it.

Having made it and eaten it I have come to the conclusion that had I had four sons at the front I would have probably send them chocolate or something else rather than this cake.  It would be cheaper and no doubt more appreciated.  When you are up to your knees in mud in a trench, breaking off a small piece of chocolate, kept in a pocket would have been far easier than trying to eat a slice of crumbly cake!

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Rub the butter into the flour very well

The mixture ready to be put into the cake tin

The mixture ready to be put into the cake tin

Trench Cake

Ingredients

1/2lb/225g plain flour

4 oz/110g  margarine or butter

3 oz/75g currants

3oz/75g brown sugar (I used Muscovado to give a darker colour)

2 tsp cocoa powder

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp grated lemon rind

1/4pt/ 150ml milk

1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

1 tsp vinegar (white wine or cider)

Method

Turn oven to Gas Mark 4/350F/180C.  Grease a cake tin – I used a 1lb loaf tin.

Rub the butter into the flour in a large bowl forming bread crumbs.

Add to this the rest of the dry ingredients including the lemon rind.

To the milk add the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda and add into the dry ingredients and stir well until everything is combined.  If it is too stiff you can add a drop of milk. You are looking for a dropping constituency.

Put the mixture into the cake tin and place in the middle of the oven.

After about 1 hour 15 mins the cake was cooked.  I tested this by placing a skewer into centre of the cake. If the skewer comes out clean then the cake is cooked.

Allow to cool and then wrap in greaseproof paper and place into a tin or airtight container.

 

So, what became of those four serving sons.  All returned safe and sound bar one.  Alfred died 2 November 1918, the War ending the 11 November.  He had come home on leave and caught influenza and taken to his bed.  When he didn’t turn up at his unit the Military Police came to the house and arrested him where upon he was put into jail.  Only for a few hours later to be transferred to hospital when they realised how ill he was, but it was too late.  He later died at Edmonton Military Hospital.  His mother was heart broken and never really got over his death. He had signed up on his 17th birthday and died aged 20 having served 3 years for his country.  228,000 people died in Britain from the 1918 influenza pandemic.

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Parcel addressed to a soldier during WW1 containing Trench Cake.

In the picture to the left is Alfred’s ‘dead mans penny’ which were issued to the next of kin for those who served in the War. My hope for the penny is that it will be looked after by future custodians and Alfred will continue to be remembered.

Whilst making the cake I also gave thought to which things I would use – the kitchen table is well over a hundred years old and no doubt would have had an original trench cake made on it, the broken cup used for measuring was my father’s (Alfred’s nephew) special coffee cup, the spoon belonged to Alfred’s brother and the mixing bowl to his niece.  I hope in some way this post honours and remembers him in something we all share – eating!

 

 

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