Friday, 23 December 2016

A nice slice of trench cake

If you've forgotten to make the Christmas cake, but still want to give something similar a go, why not try a First World War trench cake? Made by family members at home and sent to the loved ones serving abroad, it was a dense fruit cake, made to last and to withstand the journey from home to the front line.

Regular readers will already know about the First World Bake Off Competition we held at the Durham at War Volunteer Conference. We had sent out the recipe below, taken from The Telegraph, and I've now been in touch with a few of the participants about their cake-making experience.

1/2lb flour
4 oz margarine
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/4 pint of milk
3 oz brown sugar
3 oz cleaned currants
2 teaspoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
grated lemon rind


Grease a cake tin. Rub margarine into the flour in a basin. Add the dry ingredients. Mix well. Add the soda dissolved in vinegar and milk. Beat well. Turn into the tin. Bake in a moderate oven for about two hours.

Bake Off winner, Margaret Hedley, says she didn't tweak the recipe at all. However, she did do "a test bake beforehand and shared it with my history group."

Pigeon delivering the trench cake
Pigeon delivering the trench cake
Our balloon modelling volunteer, Margaret Eason, wrote this of her Bake Off experience:

"I confess I did use butter instead of margarine in the Trench Cake I made for the Bake Off but to no avail, it was still awful. It didn’t rise at all and if a similar effort had got to the trenches it would no doubt have been returned to sender with a pair of broken false teeth stuck in it. Many many congratulations to the winner, how she got her Trench Cake to rise with those ingredients is beyond me and I suspect beyond even Mary Berry!

With my cake surrendering to gravity, I decided to get it airborne by other means: it crossed my mind that pigeons had played a valiant part in the war effort and so had parcels. I decided to combine the two by making a pigeon out of balloons and attaching it to a Tupperware container wrapped in string and brown paper addressed to The Front. 

Parcels have a special meaning for me not only because I have sent many hundreds to my son who has lived abroad for more than 20 years, but also because I learned from the work I have done as a volunteer on the Durham at War project how important parcels were to the Prisoners of War in Germany. In May 1915 Mrs Grant Duff and the ladies of the British Legation Red Cross Organisation in Berne, Switzerland, sent the first Red Cross parcels to the prisoners of war. Bread was baked in Berne for 100,000 men. A loaf was sent to each prisoner and lasted 4-6 weeks, I was surprised to learn that undelivered parcels were returned to Berne from Germany when the addressee could not be traced. Sick and wounded prisoners of all the ‘belligerent’ states were interned in Switzerland. Colonel Picot, Commanding Officer of the British Internees in Switzerland, wrote in his report that the first train full of British POW’s, ‘battered remnants of humanity’ arrived in May 1916, ‘one carriage held 27 men with only 3 legs between them, but they were cheery, full of joy at their escape from captivity and very disinclined to speak of their past experiences.’ 

Recording the experiences of those who fought is very harrowing at times so getting together and having a Bake Off rallies the troops no end, so thank you to Jo and Victoria and congratulations again to the worthy winner."

And with that, we would like to wish all our readers a Happy Christmas from the Durham at War team.

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