In today’s post for Explore Your Archives week, Archives and Records Assistant Penny McMahon shares the story of Trench Cake – a First World War recipe intended to be sent to troops on the front.
This summer members of the Great British Bake Off production asked us how much it would cost to send a trench cake to the front in 1916. I had no idea that cakes were sent to the front but it is a natural thing for family members to send cakes to loved ones, especially at Christmas. It would have cost 1.s 4d to send a cake over 3lb between 7lb and would have cost 1s. 7d to send a cake between 7lb and 11lb.
No sellotape used – only brown paper and string!
The question intrigued several members of staff. We wanted to find out if we could still send a Trench Cake in the post and whether it would turn up in one piece. We carried out some research and found a notice detailing the packaging required to send food stuffs overseas from 1916. We also found a notice from 1918 asking members of the public not to send out Christmas cakes to men at the front. The notice went as far as to reassure the Great British public that the men serving oversees would be provided with a Christmas pudding.
We baked several cakes inline with an authentic recipe. The recipe has an interesting ingredients list. Presumably the cakes were made so that they’d be able travel, last well, and wouldn’t use too much rationed food. We packaged the cakes inline with the guidelines given on the notice. Then we posted the cakes to destinations including our own offices, to a cake baking competition in London (more on this later), Scotland and France.
Me with my Trench Cake before it was sent to Scotland.
I sent my cake to my brother in Scotland. It arrived in one piece the next day and he assures me that it tasted good.
The Archive Services of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found a recipe from the Ministry of Foods Nutrition Collection and are having a cake baking competition. We have sent one of our efforts off to the competition so hopefully it will arrive safely. Our Head of Archives, Vicky Parkinson, is taking part in the judging. We’ll let you know via Twitter how we get on!
Trench cake sent from our office in Islington to our Clerkenwell Office. It arrived in one piece and we are enjoying it this morning!
This year we’re once again taking part in the Explore Your Archive campaign. From 10-15 November organisations across the UK are taking part in the campaign to celebrate the UK’s archives and heritage. Penny McMahon, Archives and Records Assistant, tells us a little about what you can expect.
All of the BPMA’s Explore Your Archive activity will take place via social media, so look out for #explorearchives on our Twitter and Facebook pages, and right here on our blog. Every member of the archive team has selected one of their favourite records from the collection. This includes original artwork, snippets about the Post Office using animals in its workforce and a first-hand account of the Great Train Robbery.
Here are some of the highlights:
On Monday 10 November, Director Adrian Steel will be taking over Twitter sharing what goes on behind the scenes in our archive and here at the BPMA.
On Thursday 13 November, Head of Cataloguing Gavin McGuffie will also be giving the public an opportunity to choose a box in the archive to investigate, in our ‘pick a shelf any shelf segment’. We will put up a list of shelf numbers alongside a photograph of the shelf and you can choose which box he’ll look at.
Lastly we have been hard at work in the kitchen recreating Trench Cake. Trench cake was devised as a way of sending a cake to loved ones on the Front that would travel and keep well, without using up too many precious rationed goods. I first learned of Trench Cake when a member of the Great British Bake Off production team asked us how much it would cost and how a cake would be packaged during the First World War. We have baked several examples of the cakes, brought one in for staff at the BPMA, sent one to Scotland and one to France. Fingers crossed they arrive in one piece! Look out for a follow up blog to see how we got on.
Do you want to have a go at trench cake? We’d love to see your attempts – tweet us your pictures and tell us how it tastes!
– Penny McMahon, Archives and Records Assistant