No Depression Cake

It was the depths of the Great Depression. Several families on our block were receiving baskets of food from the welfare people. The grownups kept talking about it - Depression. Hard times for everyone. But it was my birthday, and I was just a little girl.

My mother said there was no money for a gift or a cake. I sat forlornly on the front stoop and felt sorry for myself. Then Mama came out and sat beside me. "Remember, there is always hope. Come and see. I have a surprise inside for your birthday today!" I ran in to find inside was the most adorable kitten with huge blue eyes. I immediately fell in love with it and called it "Fluffy."

Then I noticed a cake on the table with a candle on the top. "How did you do it Mama?" I asked, my eyes all aglow. "The kitten came from nice Mrs. Jones down the street. She gave us the recipe for this No Depression Cake. When you bake it you can't be sad! Mrs. Jones said we must think of what we have on hand, not what we don't have. We can always create something new and useful if we think positively. That is why it is called the No Depression Cake!"

Mama was right, I will never forget the happiness of that day. I took a piece of my birthday cake to Mrs. Jones to thank her.

I remembered the No Depression Cake when my own babies were little and my husband's dry cleaning business failed. To help him, I began a tiny advertising business on foot, pushing our children ahead of me on a broken-down baby stroller in the rural town of Baldwin Park, California.

Because there were no jobs, I asked the weekly newspaper to sell me space at a wholesale rate. Then I went out and resold the space in the form of a shopper's column to merchants. When the rocks in the road wore out my shoes, I cut cardboard and stuck it in carrying extra pieces in my purse. Soon I had the house payment covered.

Then I spoke to service club luncheons to promote my advertising column. I had no car or baby sitter, so I made a deal with my neighbor. I traded baby sitting for the use of her car. Another helping of No Depression Cake! All of the business I run today, world-wide, began with that No Depression system.

As the children grew up we had many ups and downs. I especially remember one time when we had no money for groceries. I sat down with them and said, "Let's make a No Depression Cake! Let's see what we have on hand." My son said, "Mom, the avocado tree is full of fruit. I'll sell them today by the curb."

"There aren't enough oranges on our tree to sell," my daughter said. "I'll pick them, keep some for us, and take a bag to our neighbor to see if they'll trade for some of their great tasting plums!"

We all got busy. With the first avocado sales, I ran to the grocery store and bought day-old bread, a big bag of pinto beans, some brown sugar and powdered milk. Then I baked a No Depression Cake. We had a grand lunch, counting all of our blessings and thinking of all the good things we could do together.

By the end of the afternoon, our son had sold many more of the avocados, and I had a big bowl of beans bubbling and baking in the oven. Then the phone rang. It was one of my advertisers asking me to come over and pick up a big ad and a check.

Next time you're feeling low, trying counting the good things you have on hand. Do with what you have. Bake up a positive-thinking No Depression Cake!

Here is the recipe. It is milkless, eggless and butterless. You can substitute other ingredients for any you don't have. The one thing this cake is full of, however, is memories of cheerfully creating with what is at hand and on hand - and never giving up hope.

Depression Cake

1 cup shortening
2 cups water
2 cups raisins
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda


In a saucepan combine the shortening, water, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove form heat and let stand until cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 9x13 inch baking pan.
Stir the flour and baking soda into the cooled raisin mixture and mix until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 minutes.

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