Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Church Cookbooks of New York, Part 1: Tomato Soup Cake ("Golden Anniversary," Church of the Master, Rochester, 1977)

I have a thing for old, yellowing, comb-bound church (or sundry other civic associations) cookbooks. I have written of this love before. I have an especial interest in those that come from Upstate/Western/Central/Northern New York. These recipe collections often contain lost wisdom and lore from generations gone by. I snatch them up whenever I can.

You can find plenty of predictably bad vintage recipes in these collections, jello molds and things like that. But once in a while you come across something so strange it simply needs to be brought back to life and tested. So I figured I might do a series of posts where I try out an interesting recipe or two and see what happens. Just my small way of keeping our culinary history alive.

Today we have "Tomato Soup Cake." Yes, you heard me. "Tomato Soup Cake."

I will get to the recipe in a minute, first let me introduce you to the book.

Here we have, "Golden Anniversary Cookbook."

This no frills affair was published in Rochester in 1977.

So, "Tomato Soup Cake," eh? I have never heard of this before! It sounded so strange that I figured there must be something to it. If someone took the time to write the recipe down and submit it to "The Cook Book Committee and Volunteers of The Church of the Master" it must be pretty good, right? I had to know...

The recipe, except for the tomato soup, is a pretty standard spice cake. It is like carrot cake, but only instead of carrots -- tomato soup. I decided to follow the recipe religiously except I omitted raisins. Why? Because I hate raisins and they ruin everything.

"Add soda to soup" seemed to me that it might be of some importance. I started thinking things like -- "maybe the acid in the soup reacts with the baking soda and this neutralizes the tomato soup flavor and produces magical lift and other pleasurable cake characteristics." So I added the soda to the soup.

Stirring the baking soda in it did start to fizz and overflow a bit, so don't do this too far in advance.

The ingredients came together into a fairly benign looking batter.

And baked up into a fairly benign looking cake.

Now began the first hints of horror. The smell... Oh sweet lord baby Jesus, the smell... An otherworldly stench of tomato soup concentrate spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

I let the cake cool and whipped up the suggested cream cheese frosting. I slopped the frosting on top and it all looked entirely normal.

I cut myself a hearty slice. Apart from being a little orange in color (and having the above described stench) it looked like a perfectly normal slice of spice cake.

Then I took a bite. As you start to chew you get the tasty cream cheese frosting and sweet spice up front. For a moment you think, heck. This ain't half bad. But then you are punched in the mouth by the condensed tomato soup. Punched right in your poor unsuspecting mouth.

I will not sugar coat it. I'm sorry Mrs. Arline Copeland, but this is some horrific shit. No need to recreate this recipe in your home kitchen. Just go buy a slice of carrot cake and glob on some tomato soup concentrate and the effect will be similar. The tomato soup is not a background note, it is a front and center flavor. I don't know, maybe the cake needs the raisins? Somehow I don't think they would have made it any more bearable.

I am sitting here probably two hours after having a bite of the "Tomato Soup Cake" and I can still taste it in my mouth. I worry that a foul, spicy, tomato film has permanently coated my tongue.

I usually don't have this strong of a reaction to unpleasant food. I hate all those stupid Buzzfeed videos where people carry on about how much they hate Korean potato chips or something... I am not exaggerating for comic effect here. "Tomato Soup Cake" is horrid. I have been traumatized.

Has anyone out there heard of this recipe before? Does your family eat it? Do you like it? Is this part of some culinary tradition? I just don't understand it. What sort of deviant human thought that tomato soup concentrate might bring something good to the spice cake party? (*Edit: I googled it. This is a well attested Depression era recipe. All sorts of history out there if you are interested)

In any event, I had a grand old time whipping this up so expect future installments. I just eBayed (don't tell my wife) an especially grand volume from the mid-80s out of good ol' Albany. There is sure to be a recipe of note in there.

I'm off to brush my tongue.


  1. Made many a tomato soup cake when I was younger. It is very good.

  2. Made many a tomato soup cake when I was younger. It is very good.

  3. I enjoyed the hell out of this post. Thanks for writing it.

  4. this was totally entertaining.....

  5. This sounds disturbing and from your taste test description I guess it is. I'll have to explore more of your blog. I came here to read about Glazier Hot Dogs and wanted to see your latest post. Fun stuff to be found here.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  6. Most people smoked cigarettes back then. It could be the reason why they thought it was good - they actually couldn't taste much.

  7. This was fun. Please do continue the series.

  8. Thanks for making me LAUGH OUT LOUD. But serves you right!!! (:

  9. Thanks for making me LAUGH OUT LOUD. But serves you right!!! (:

  10. Ha! Great post. Thanks for sharing. I was really hoping it would turn out better than it sounds.

  11. I'm guessing, too, that tomato soup in 1977 tasted a whole lot more natural. People use tomatoes for moisture in baking. Great writing. Love some good old church cookbooks. Lol


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