Several foods were in high demand to feed the troops in Europe, which led to shortages at home. These included flour, sugar, beef, cream and butter.
During World War II, there was also high demand for kitchen fats such as lard and bacon drippings, which were used to grease weapons and make glycerine for explosives. One slogan said, "Pass the grease and make the ammunition." As a result, butter and lard were often in short supply for baking.
This created a new demand for solid vegetable shortening such as Crisco. Recipes called for "shortening" which could be any of the above, as available. Interestingly, margarine was banned in Canada from 1886 to 1948, except for a few years around World War I when butter was scarce and expensive.
In 1943, the Officers Wives' and Mothers' Auxiliary of H.M.C.S Unicorn published The Navy Cookbook (available at the Local History Room of the Saskatoon Public Library). It includes these recipes for Wartime Cake and Wartime Icing.
3 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
3 eggs (separated)
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat the shortening until creamy, gradually adding the sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup, 2 tbsp at a time, mixing well after each addition.
In a small bowl, beat egg yolks until thick. Blend eggs into shortening mixture. Add flour alternating with milk and vanilla, stirring just enough to blend.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add the other 1/2 cup corn syrup, beating continuously. Fold thoroughly into cake batter. Bake in two layer cake tins at 350F for 35-40 minutes. Note: I baked it in one pan and cut it into two layers before icing.
Note: This icing contains raw eggs. If you have a concern about eating raw egg, as many people do, please consider this recipe an anachronistic "blast from the past" and find another icing recipe for your cake.
2 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
Beat egg whites and salt until stiff. Add syrup slowly, beating all the time. When icing holds its shape, add vanilla. (You might also add a pinch of cream of tartar to help the eggs hold their shape.) Use the icing immediately as it doesn't keep well.
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This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.