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WWI Seed Cake Recipe from Juliet Greenwood

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After months and months of promising to do it, I finally got around to baking Juliet Greenwood’s Seed Cake. Anyone who follows Juliet’s blog, has read her WWI novel We That Are Left (Honno Press) or who has read the guest blog post that Juliet wrote for my book blog, will know exactly what cake I am talking about. For those who are unfamiliar with the culinary background, I will explain…

In Juliet Greenwood’s novel, which was set in Cornwall during the First World War, the growing of food and creating nutritious dishes with whatever was available, played a central part in the drama. As Juliet explained:

Among the many roles of women at home was ensuring that there was enough food at home for the population to both survive and be strong enough to continue, as well as sending supplies to the soldiers at the front. Like today, much of Britain’s food was imported, and fashionable and convenient new foods, like tinned fruit, had begun to replace the traditional ways of cooking.

It wasn’t just food, but medicines too. So women, especially those in the countryside returned to the old ways of their grandmothers. They grew and preserved as much as they could and foraged for things like blackberries and rosehips, which are an excellent source of vitamin C and wonderful home remedies for coughs and colds. As well as women working the land, schoolchildren were drafted in to help, growing food wherever there was space.

Juliet had researched recipes from the era and had included a few at the back of her book. Thankfully, she had adapted the original recipes into versions more suitable for twenty-first century baking. For example, the WWI Seed Cake recipe was made with 2.5 lb of flour and 12oz of seeds until Juliet scaled it down to manageable proportions.

Here is the recipe as adapted by Juliet: (you can find the original via the above link to Juliet’s website).

baked poppy cake

Just out of the tin and cooling down…

8oz     230g   Butter or Margarine
8oz     230g   Sugar
2oz   60g     Caraway or Poppy Seeds
8oz     230g   SR Flour
2oz      60g     Candied Peel
Rind and juice of 1 Orange
Rind and juice of 1 Lemon
3 Eggs [I used large eggs]

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with flour alternately, then add juice of one orange, caraway/poppy seeds, candied peel. Spoon into a greased 7inch/ 18cm tin and bake in oven at 180 degrees (160 for fan assisted)/ Gas Mark 4 for one hour or until a knife comes out clean. When cool cover with butter icing (Vanilla or lemon both worth well).

I used poppy seeds this time, though I plan to try caraway next time. I made a couple of unintentional tweaks to the recipe as I forgot to add the candied peel and instead of an orange, I used the juice and rind of two mandarins since that was what I had in at the time. The impetus for making the cake was that I had been asked to make something for a post-grad coffee morning, so I baked the mixture in my smaller roasting tray instead of a 7inch tin so I could cut it into slices more easily.

Iced Poppy Cake

All ready to cut and sample…

After the cake had cooled, I spread some lemon glace icing on the top, which I left to set a little before cutting the cake into squares. We did get to try a piece before packing the cake for the coffee morning and voted the poppy seed version a success (even without the candied peel). The orange and lemon juice adds a lovely flavour to the cake. I’ll use caraway seeds next time, though I do have a lot of cardamom in at the moment and I wonder how that would work in a cake. Any thoughts from the bakers out there?


If you want to follow up the First World War theme, then check out the Facebook page for We That Are Left for lots of interesting posts. I have baked a few other treats for coffee mornings this semester, so I will post up soon about some of the recipes I have used.

Happy baking!


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