A GEM of a Recipe From the Depression Era!

I get a great newsletter every week from The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Their latest issue had a fascinating article on tomato cake.

Have you ever had the pleasure of tasting tomato cake? I haven’t; actually, I’d never even heard of it. If your answer is also “no,” this is understandable. In fact, there’s a good chance that you’ve never even heard of it either. Unlike its more popular carrot-based cousin, tomato cake isn’t a typical go-to treat.

This is a shame, really, as tomato cake is an example of old timey ingenuity that Americans are so famous for. When times get tough, we adapt, cope, and make do.

According to the folks at The Old Farmer’s Almanac, recipes for tomato cake began to pop up in the early 1930s, during The Great Depression, and then gained in popularity again during World War II. During both of these historical periods, ingredients were in short supply, so those tough home bakers (likely your grandma and mine, too) adapted, coped, and made do!

Original recipes used ever-present canned tomato soup, which eliminated the need for fresh tomatoes, and greatly minimized the amount of eggs and butter or spices needed (which were commonly scarce at the time). The result was a decadent, lightly spiced cake that tasted nothing like canned soup! And over time, clever home bakers who didn’t have canned tomato soup around, but who had a garden figured out how to substitute fresh tomatoes for the soup.

It’s sort of amazing what can happen, whether out of necessity or creativity, when we let go of how things should be and allow ourselves to think “outside the box.” And that was the Almanac’s challenge to us for this week: To REPURPOSE (give new life to an old thing). In other words, to make do by using what we have on hand. And, of course, in the process, maybe don’t always follow the recipe—adapt. (We’ve all done that, and have had some pretty great results, right?)

I’ll close with The Old Farmer’s Almanac recipe for this creative and delicious cake. You’ll note that it uses fresh tomatoes (instead of the above-mentioned canned soup), which should be easy to find right now at farmers’ markets or in your own garden!

The amount of tomatoes you’ll need depends a bit on the size of your tomatoes and how juicy they might be. I used two large slicing tomatoes (about 1pound weight in total). Overall, the fresh tomatoes yield about 2 cups of tomato liquid. Draw on your experience at cake-making to judge the consistency of your batter. If it’s a bit thick, you may need to add a little milk (one tablespoon at a time).

You can peel the tomatoes if you like, but it’s not necessary as the tomato skins are blended completely, and any remaining bits melt into the cake as it bakes.

The recipe does say to remove the seeds, however. Why seed a tomato? Tomato seeds and their surrounding gel contain a lot of liquid. Also, during the seeding process, you can also get rid of the tough, white, flavorless parts attached to the core. Most of a tomato’s flavor resides in the red fleshy part, not the seeds and their gel.

My preferred method for tomato seeding (which I learned from the blog of food enthusiast, Tori Avey) is as follows:

Place your tomato on a cutting board, stem side facing up.

Roll the tomato sideways so the stem faces to the right, and cut the tomato down the center "equator" line into two halves.

Use a quarter teaspoon to scoop the tomato seeds and the tough white core out of the four seed cavities. (I often save the seeds, core, and gel and add this to a pot of soup or stew.)

Finally, rest assured your cake will NOT taste like tomatoes. The citric acid in the tomatoes helps to balance the sweetness in the cake, enhances the spices, and produces a moist cake, similar in texture to beloved carrot cake. I’m excited for those of you that’ve never had this, to try it!

Fresh Tomato Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup butter softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (1-pound) package powdered sugar
milk as needed

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Grease and flour a 13x9-inch baking pan.
3. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and shortening and mix until creamy.
4. Add the eggs, beating after each.
5. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt.
6. Sift the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture and stir to blend.
7. Add the tomatoes, nuts, dates, and raisins and stir thoroughly.
8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
9. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla and mix until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little milk. Frost when the cake is cool.

Recipe formatted with the Cook'n Recipe Software from DVO Enterprises.

Add Recipe to Cook'n

  •   www.newengland.com
  •   www.pinterest.com
  •   www.pixabay.com
  •   www.toriavey.com
  •   www.12tomatoes.com

  •     Alice Osborne
        Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
        Email the author! alice@dvo.com

    Subscribe to Cook'n Premium and get newsletter articles like this each week!

    blog comments powered by Disqus