Old Recipe For Poverty Cake from the Marion Harland Cookbook

poverty cake recipe from a vintage cookbook

I inherited an old cookbook that I’ll be using to see what kind of desserts they used to eat before the invention of the electric oven. 

I chose the recipe for poverty cake as my first victim because it looked pretty simple.

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poverty cane in a pan

Poverty Cake recipe.

       Mix together half a cupful of molasses, half a cupful of sugar, one egg and two tablespoonfuls of melted butter. When these are beaten together thoroughly add one teaspoonful of soda dissolved in half a cupful of cold water, cinnamon or ginger to taste, and one and a half cupfuls of flour. Bake in a shallow pan in a moderate oven for about thirty minutes.

      Good, in spite of the name!

poverty cake recipe from a vintage cookbook

Poverty Cake

A recipe from a vintage cookbook for a cake that has a deceptive name. This has a nice spice flavor that's like gingerbread.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Dessert


  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups All purpose flour


  • Prep an 8" cake pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  • Beat the molasses, sugar, egg, and butter together thoroughly.
  • Dissolve the baking soda in the water and add to the mixture.
  • Add the spices and the flour, beat thoroughly to incorporate all the ingredients.
  • Bake for about 25-30 minutes at 350F.
  • Cool completely on a rack and depan the cake.


I followed the recipe and added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, but I think that I could have added 1 tsp. 
The poverty cake was surprisingly good, I didn’t think that it would rise as much as it did. 
It was definitely on the heavy side, but my kids both wanted to eat more and said that they liked it a lot. 
It tasted like molasses-y gingerbread, and if you altered the spices it would be a very similar flavor to gingerbread, with a heavier texture.
Keyword cake, gingerbread

(For another recipe from this cookbook check out these gingersnaps!)

poverty cake piece

So it wasn’t so bad for something with that name. Give it a try!

And if you’re looking for a decadent yeast roll recipe, click here.

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