Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Poverty Cake (And Jews Without Money)

Working at Henry Street Settlement, a social service agency founded in 1893 to fight the social causes of poverty, I tend to think about poverty a lot.  I've been thinking about it even more than usual, having just read Michael Gold's 1930 best seller, Jews Without Money, a semi-autobiographical novel of his childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  In the book, Gold (a communist who co-founded The New Masses and later was a columnist for The Daily Worker), blamed every misfortune, large or small, on poverty.  (I was lucky enough to attend Vivian Gornick's illuminating salon/conversation about the book at the Tenement Museum's Tenement Talks; the next and final session of her Immigrant Novel Series there is March 5, when she will tackle another classic, Henry Roth's Call It Sleep. Do consider going to that, or you can spend the evening with me at a poverty-fighting event at the Park Avenue Armory that night, The Art Show Gala Preview to benefit Henry Street.)  

That's a long way to get to Poverty Cake but here we are. Initially, I figured it was another version of Depression Cake, Poor Man's Cookies, Canada War Cake or any number of similarly named confections created when butter, sugar and eggs were scarce.  But, as the DH said upon trying a slice, "This poverty cake is rich."  And it is -- rich in flavor and fat (it has both butter and eggs) and is a really good spice cake -- not at all what one would expect from poverty cake. This would make a perfect after-school snack.

To make the cake, boil the raisins in the water and then add one stick of butter.

Add the rest of the ingredients and then simply pour into an 8 x 8 inch pan, which you've either greased and floured or lined with parchment paper.

This cake travels really well.  Of course, I brought some to work...

...where even poverty-fighter-in-chief David Garza had a small piece. (Who would want a big piece of poverty?)  

Henry Street's original poverty fighter, founder Lillian Wald, was fond of the expression "full of ginger."  This cake isn't full of ginger, but has plenty of other spices.

The cover of the latest edition of Jews Without Money -- a compelling novel certainly worth a read. In it the narrator writes that poverty makes some people insane, and he quotes his father as saying:  "It's better to be dead in this country than not to have money."


  1. You might be interested in Anzia Yezierska's disdainful description of a flourless, eggless, butterless cake taught at a settlement school in her novel, Salome of the Tenements.

    1. Thanks much for the heads up. I will definitely read that book. Recently read The Bread Givers -- and loved it.