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Eggs, or no eggs (Recipes: Wacky Cake and Poor Man's Cake)

Please welcome Sarah, an artist, as a guest blogger on The Perfect Pantry. Sarah's work has won numerous awards and fellowships, and has been featured in exhibits across the country. She is a dedicated urban gardener and coordinates a large multi-cultural community garden in Boston's South End.


Guest post and photos by Sarah in Boston

When I was a kid, my mom created a special scrapbook cookbook especially for my dad.

He was plagued with terrible headaches and swelling in his hands and feet, and assumed that he had food allergies. Through trial-and-error cooking, they concluded he must be allergic to eggs

As a traveling salesman, my dad had to eat most of his meals on the road, so when he came home they tried to calm his system with all his favorite comfort foods.

It wasn’t until he was in his late sixties that he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, hereditary angioedema -- not food allergies -- and, after treatment, to his great joy he could eat anything. But two of those egg-free desserts, made with ingredients from my mother's pantry, remained his particular favorites: Wacky Cake (in the top photo), which my mother made for family birthdays, and Poor Man’s Cake.

I loved to help my mom make those cakes; I thought baking was a science experiment. I would poke my finger into the dry mixture of the Wacky Cake to create a hole for the baking soda and vinegar. Mom would add the baking soda and I would add the vinegar for a little Mt. Vesuvius reaction. 


My father had a ritual with the Poor Man’s Cake (photo below). He would bring home freshly ground spices from his travels to large cities or ethnic neighborhoods around the Midwest. (I still think using spices at their peak makes the cake a particularly aromatic delight.) We would make the cake after dinner, because Dad preferred that the cake be eaten the day after it was made; he said letting it "sit" saturated the cake with flavor. 

PoorMan's Cake

I can still see him smacking his lips as he sat watching the cake, waiting for it to saturate, the house filled with the aroma of ginger, cinnamon and allspice. But usually before bedtime we would notice a small slice missing from the side!

Back then people thought my mom was brilliant for creating such clever no egg-meals and desserts from what she had in the pantry. I don’t think she ever revealed where she got the recipes.


A couple of years ago I stumbled upon MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf. Written to respond to World War II rationing, the book tried to show the value of enjoying home-cooked foods and how to create menus with ever-limited supplies. It championed the kitchen garden, foraging for wild greens and berries and, of course, hunting. The book is filled with recipes like roast pigeon, prune roast, and green garden soup, but her War Cake seems like it could have been the genus of my own Wacky Cake. 

Wacky Cake

When I was young, we all looked forward to Mom's buttery, triple chocolate frosting. After my own near-religious conversion to natural foods, I tried to recreate this cake using healthy ingredients, but it just wasn't the same. My one concession: instead of the frosting, I make this with a fruit sauce. My favorite is cranberries; the tartness balances the rich chocolate taste.


1-1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil
1 cup cold water


Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add remaining ingredients in order: vinegar, oil, and water. Mix well. Pour into a cake pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Frost with chocolate butter cream frosting.

Poor Man's Cake

My father's favorite.


1-1/2 cups raisins
1 tsp powdered ginger
1-1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp melted lard (I use canola oil)
2 tsp baking soda
All-purpose flour, enough to thicken the batter (approximately 1-1/2 cups)


Preheat oven to 375°F.

Boil raisins in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes, until tender. Drain, cool and add spices, sugar and canola oil. Then add 2 tsp baking soda and enough flour to thicken the batter. Pour into a cake pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Spice cake
Chocolate refrigerator cake
Fresca cake
Apple spice cake

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I've had fun making Wacky Cake, and would love to try the Poor Man's Cake - I can almost sense the aroma of those wonderful spices!

I can see it now and almost smell it-what a fun story! Just a quick question--is a cake pan one of those circle things or 8"square pans? thanks

Please do continue Other people's pantry .It has inspired me and I am guessing countless other people to organize or atleast dream of nice pantries .I have got so many ideas and inspiration from this to organize and cook.

Sarah: Your family story of food makes me think about how many of my childhood memories are bound up in food. Home food, school food, summer camp food.
Thanks for such an evocative post.

The "I hate to cook book" by Peg Bracken has virtually the same recipe for a nearly-instant chocolate cake -- she has you mix the ingredients right in the baking pan. I'd call it the Perfect Pantry Cake, since it uses only long-life pantry staples -- nothing from the refrigerator.

What a great story. Thanx for sharing. A perfect read over my Sunday morning coffee.

What a cool story and the cakes...ooooh la la.

I agree with dad, some cakes are better the next day.
They look great!

The wacky cake looks delicious!!! I'll have to give it a try.

Hi T.W.
Don't you love that vinegar baking soda action. I look forward to hearing how you like the Poor Man's Cake.

Hi Bev
I used a 9" sq. pan the cut the cake in 1/2 when it had cooled to make a layer cake - so I guess that made the cake a 9 x 4 1/2" cake when complete. Does that help?

Thanks Ted
My parents could discuss any trip, event, or situation as long as they remembered what it was they had eaten or, gotten an upset stomach from. It was a great way to engage them in conversation.
Glad you enjoyed it

Thanks alishajoy, what a nice thing to say.

Oh Noble Pig, sooo how ARE your cakes?

Natashya, three cheers for dad's, he was a big fan of leftovers too.

John Mc - hope you enjoy them, let me know how they turn out.

thanks to you all

This reminds me of a similar cake my grandmother made. I can't wait to try it.

this is an interesting cake to try!

Good stories! And your cakes look fabulous.

mae, I'm not surprised to hear the Wacky Cake turn up in other places, its so basic -although as simple as it is I do like to cook.

Thanks Treehouse Chef, I'd love to hear how it stacks up with your grandmothers cake.

Thanks Veron,

Thanks Maris I too love a good story, glad you liked mine.


I've heard about Wacky Cake from so many different people- your post inspired me to make it for dessert tonight.

YUMMY! :) Everyone loved it.

My Mom wonders if this could me made into a gingerbread? (Read that as: Myrnie, why don't you mess around with the recipe, and bring me a slice when it works out?)

:) thanks!

Try the Poor Man's Cake it tastes a bit like a gingerbread - with raisins. I'm so glad the Wacky Cake made dessert last night, how nice. -- Sarah

War cake! Yes, made it many times from the recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook. It reminds me of a favorite cake my mother purchased from the old A & P. Your Wacky Cake seems very similar.

Thanks Constance for sharing your memories, we had a Kroger Grocery store where I grew up, all I remember is having a crush on the one of the guys that bagged groceries. Sarah

That really sounds good - the both do, but I am especially fond of chocolate and cranberries together.

Ill be thinking about this all day.

hi Mimi - let me know if you try the Wacky Cake, I made one last night for a community meeting, I noticed at one point everyone had a little chocolate mustache, so I guess that means they liked the cake.
ha ha - Sarah

Oh, after much searching on the internet, I discovered the name of the cake sold at A & P, "Spanish Bar Cake". Seems I'm not the only one with fond memories of this confection.

oooh I remember that cake very well was my favorite then and would be again if you could find a match I will have to try it for sure.

Question on the Poor Man's Cake recipe. How much water should I add to the recipe -- there's not enough liquid. Are you counting on people to reserve the cooking water from the raisins? As it is the recipe says to drain the raisins (which would usually mean to discard the water), then add the dry ingredients.

You shouldn't need to add any water. The raisins are moist and provide enough moisture. The flour is just enough to sort of hold them together. Hope this helps.

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