13 Depression-Era Desserts That Still Taste Decadent

Depression Cake on a floral plate
Photo: Trusted Brands

The Great Depression required home cooks to be crafty and creative with their recipes. With many ingredients scarce or too costly, these culinary geniuses had to find alternatives for eggs, butter, heavy cream, and other foods we consider staples today. Unusual choices like mayonnaise, vinegar, and baking soda, or even canned tomato soup were swapped in to create rich and delicious baked goods. But even after the Great Depression ended and cooks found their pantries full again, many of these recipes stuck around as family favorites. Try making one of our Depression-era dessert recipes to see just how tasty budget-friendly baking can be.

01 of 14

Wacky Cake VIII

Wacky Cake VIII
Holiday Baker

Wacky cakes get their name from home bakers learning how to make do without eggs for leavening cakes. Here, a tablespoon of vinegar and a teaspoon of baking soda make for a fluffy texture in this chocolate cake.

02 of 14

Mimi's Tomato Soup Cake

Mimi's Tomato Soup Cake on a green glass stand

Don't knock it until you've tried it! A can of tomato soup makes for a rich texture in this Depression-era cake, while the trio of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg mask any tomato-y flavor.

03 of 14

Depression Cake III

Depression Cake on a white plate
Irene Y

"A cake handed down from my Great Grandmother when they didn't have much to use in their mixes," says Wayne. Strongly brewed coffee gives the cake a distinct flavor when paired with raisins and spices.

04 of 14

Grandma's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Grandma's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Brad Pettijohn

"My gramma used to bake cakes and pies during the Depression and my grampa would sell them door-to-door and on the street corners to support them during that awful time," shares C.N. "This is one of my favorites."

05 of 14

Eggless Milkless Butterless Cake

Eggless Milkless Butterless Cake in a blue pan
Lindsay D

No eggs, milk, or butter? No problem! This recipe swaps in shortening for a moist crumb and utilizes raisins and spices for plenty of sweet flavor.

06 of 14

Chocolate Mayo Cake

Chocolate Mayo Cake on a glass cake stand
Southern Boy

Since mayonnaise's two main ingredients are eggs and oil, it makes sense to include it in this rich chocolate cake. Virginia Godd says, "My mom made this cake while living in the Depression. It is so good, I hope this fills your needs and your memories."

07 of 14

Depression Cake I

Depression Cake on a floral plate
Trusted Brands

This unique recipe is made by simmering together shortening, sugar, raisins, and spices until a thick syrup is achieved, then mixing it with flour and baking soda. The result is a delightfully light cake infused with the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.

08 of 14

Chocolate Peanut Butter Wacky Cake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Wacky Cake on a white plate
Kitchen Kitty

While it uses some milk and butter, this decadent recipe still falls into the "wacky" category by forgoing the eggs. This version is a rich chocolate cake, topped with a creamy brown sugar frosting.

09 of 14

Poor Mans Cake III

Poor Mans Cake in a glass dish

Sweetened with brown sugar and studded with raisins, you'll never know this spice cake was made for times of hardship. Jill D shares how this dessert has been in her family for generations: "This recipe if from the l930's. My Grandmother gave it to my Mother and she gave it to me. Now I am a grandmother and passed it down to my kids."

10 of 14

Waste Not Cake

slice of waste not cake topped with powdered sugar
Diana Moutsopoulos

This easy, delicious, and moist cake calls for soured milk — a perfectly safe way to use up milk that's just past its prime instead of pouring it down the drain. Reviewer Galen says "this is basically the recipe for my mother's signature chocolate cake. As a child growing up on a hard-scrabble 160 acre homestead farm and beginning marriage during the depths of the Great Depression, she learned early to 'waste not.'"

11 of 14

Grandpere dans le Sirop

Quebecois dessert grandpere dans le sirop in a white baking dish

Also called simply Grand-pères, this recipe was popular in Quebec during the Depression. Many variations call for maple syrup, though this recipe uses budget-friendly brown sugar with just a handful of other ingredients.

12 of 14

Sugar Cream Pie V

sugar cream pie in a white pie dish

"My father would call this poor man's pie, because his mother would make it during the Depression when no other filling was available!" says one reviewer. Don't let the short list of ingredients fool you — this recipe has stood the test of time for a reason!

13 of 14

Water Pie

water pie fresh from the oven
Pictured: Water Pie. Lindsey Hayes

Water pie — made with just six ingredients: water, flour, sugar, vanilla extract, butter, and a pie crust — may seem like a fun hack today, but during the Great Depression, it was simply a dessert that reflected the circumstances for many Americans.

Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love