Pork Cake – A Mid-Century Menu Christmas Recipe Test

Posted on Dec 21 2011 - 6:09am by RetroRuth




This is a little awkward. I suppose I should clear the air. Just confess what I’ve done wrong so we can acknowledge what I’ve done, you can forgive me, and we can move past it. I’ll do it fast, like ripping off a Band-aid. Okay? Okay. Ready?

*Deep breath*



Whew. Okay. That wasn’t so bad. So I made a cake with a pound of unrendered pork fat? So what, right? Not such a big deal. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.


Look, I wanted to make a cherry cake. It was PINK. I picked this pink cake out of a Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook and I showed it to Tom. I said, “What do you think about this cake? It has a big, fat candle sticking out of it, like that epicly stupid Kwanzaa cake Sandra Lee made.

But Tom wasn’t listening to me. He was shaking his head and pointing to another recipe. A recipe from Holiday Cooking, a pamphlet put out by The People’s Gas, Light and Coke Company, Chicago   in the 1950’s.

Pork Cake001

“What?” I said, “No cake?”

“Oh no, there’s going to be cake.” He jabbed his finger at the offending recipe. “There’s going to be a pork cake.”

Pork Cake002

“No.” I started shaking my head. “No. Nonononononono.”

He smiled evilly. “Yes.”

“No!” I tried to think up excuses. “It will be too expensive. Look at all that stupid fruit.”


“It’s going to take too long.”


“I’ll never be able to find pork fat on this short notice!”

“Yes we will.”

“I don’t want to!” I wailed, “Don’t make me make the pork cake!”

He took my hand in his and looked deep into my eyes. “We’ll make it together.”


So, this is one pound of pork fat, chopped up in my food processor. It was purchased at Jack’s Fruit And Meat Market. They had it on hand. In the freezer. Just like they had a whole cow tongue conveniently in the freezer that time I tried to weasel out of making tongue in gelatin

Just. Like. That.

Oh, and for the record, I have no problem cooking with lard. Lard is great. I use it in pie crust and cookies. But I have NEVER cooked with lard that hasn’t been rendered. Cooked down. (If you want to see the process, check out Erica’s lard adventure on Retro Recipe Attempts) Made delicious by heat. This fat was just…fat. Raw, raw fat. It was a first for me. And firsts are always scary.


Granted, there was a gasp at rendering in the recipe. Here is the pork fat after I poured a cup of boiling water over it. It melted some of it, but most of it was still left in little, horrible chunks.


After one hour of sitting, the fat had cooled and gelatinized some. Into brains, apparently. Which doesn’t mean it’s rendered, but brains are always fun.

But, true to the spirit of the Mid-Century Menu, I didn’t let this stop me. I pushed aside horrible feelings and got down to cooking. I measured, I sifted, I mixed, and I DID NOT taste the batter.


The batter looked okay, and it didn’t smell porky. With all of the spices and molasses, it pretty much just smelled like gingerbread. However, some small, whitish masses still remained whole in the batter, burrowing through it like fat little grubs.

IMG_7038 edit

It totally looks like a grub.

But then, THEN the rendering process began. After the fat was already in the cake! The cake baked for 4 hours (!) at 250 degrees.


And baked up pretty well. The outside was freakishly crispy, and the smell of pork wasn’t completely drowned out by molasses, but overall it wasn’t too bad.


The inside was surprisingly moist, and I sent a small prayer of thanks up to God when I cut into the cake and the fat grubs were gone. I had harbored an irrational fear that they would have been resistant to heat and would have stayed, whole and slimey, in the batter.

And then it was time for only one thing.  The taste-test.

After a close inspection, of course.


“Are you sure all those raw fat things are gone?”

It turned out I wasn’t the only one with the heat-resistant-fat-grub fear.

“I think so. I didn’t see any when I was cutting it.”

“I don’t want to eat any raw pork.”

“Don’t be such a baby. This was your idea.”


Down the hatch with a nervous smile.


“How is it?”

“Fine. The outside is freakishly crunchy.”


“What’s wrong? You said it was fine.”

“I can’t shake the image of the pork bits.”

“Oh, you big baby.” I grabbed the fork and took a bite. The cake was moist and spicy, and after you got over the crunchy crust, it was pretty good. “I kind of like it. It tastes like –” I froze as something slithered over my tongue. “Aack!”


I forced myself to swallow. “That was a raisin, right?”

Tom shrugged. “You tell me.”

The Verdict: Weird. Weird even for us. The cake was moist, spicy and not too sweet. It needed some kind of orange or lemon glaze on top of it to make it really good. But it was just…wrong. It didn’t taste bad, but the preparation technique was a little off-putting for us. Right now it is stashed in our fridge, waiting for the visions of dancing fat grubs to dissipate. Then we will try eating it again. With glaze.

Cake, anyone?

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I love everything retro, vintage, mid-century, kitsch and all things atomic! A 21st century housewife just trying to fit in...to the 50's. I have a passion for vintage recipes and an enormous vintage cookbook collection that I keep testing, even though by now I should know better. Creator of Mid-Century Menu (www.midcenturymenu.com), No Pattern Required (www.nopatternrequired.com), and I Ate The 80's (www.iatethe80s.com).

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39 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Eartha Kitsch December 21, 2011 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Haaaaaaaaaa! God, y’all seriously grossed out this vegetarian but I haven’t laughed this hard in weeks.

    • RetroRuth December 21, 2011 at 10:00 am - Reply

      I knew you would like this one, Eartha. Us eating strange animal parts always makes you smile. 🙂

  2. pam kueber December 21, 2011 at 8:51 am - Reply

    ugh. i really wish i had not read this story. you have converted me to a vegetarian. barf

    • RetroRuth December 21, 2011 at 10:02 am - Reply

      You can’t un-read it now, just like I can’t un-make the cake…sigh…

      I was going to make a joke here, but instead I just made myself depressed.

  3. veg-o-matic December 21, 2011 at 10:41 am - Reply

    This may be my favorite post so far. It’s got everything: weird food, hilarious dialogue, and Epic TomFace™.

    The test, I think, would be to serve it to someone who does not know the ingredients, they see what his/her reaction is.

    • RetroRuth December 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm - Reply

      Nice! Glad you liked it so much! I guess Tom was right. He said that even if the cake tasted like crap, the post would be gold.

  4. Andrea December 21, 2011 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Add me to Eartha’s grossed out vegetarian club – icccccccckkkkkkkkkkkk! However I am sooo sending this to my hubby who loves pork – we’ll see if his pork love wanes after reading this!

    • RetroRuth December 21, 2011 at 12:57 pm - Reply

      It’s truly a frightening cake for veggies and meat-eaters alike!

  5. roadsidewonders December 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    I sooooo want to make this just to gross “Mr” Roadside out 🙂

    • RetroRuth December 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      It might backfire, and end up grossing you out as well! And then you will have six pounds of Pork Cake in your fridge and no one who wants to eat it. 🙂

  6. ae December 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    Never thought a cake could sound so bad!!!

  7. Sara In AZ December 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    OMG!!! This is hee-larious Ruth!!!!! That last pic of Tom – LOVE!!!! I would be so terrfied of eating little fat grubs too. ugh. It just looks SO wrong doesn’t it – all that fat in there like that? Maybe if you had cooked up a lot of bacon, really crispy, and thrown it in instead it would have been better! 🙂

    • RetroRuth December 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      You know, a bacon cake would have totally been better…maybe you are onto something there….

  8. Lorie B December 22, 2011 at 12:25 am - Reply


    that is the funniest thing I have read in ages! “Visions of dancing fat grubs” BWAHAHAHAAHAAAAA

    I was showing this one to my hubby and he GROSSED out over the picture of the pork fat. And this is the man who eats tuna and sugar! Thanks so very much for the laugh.

    And Merry Christmas to you and Tom!

    • RetroRuth December 28, 2011 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Thanks, Lorie B! Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. Glad you got a laugh of out it, AND that you got to gross out your hubby. 🙂

  9. Charlotte December 22, 2011 at 9:34 am - Reply

    I have a stomach of iron, and this is the first recipe to make me gag. But overlooking (as if we could) the pork fat/grubs/meat issue, I can’t believe this is six-pound cake and takes four hours to bake! That is just nuts, even by mid-century standards!

    • RetroRuth December 28, 2011 at 10:03 am - Reply

      I know, right??

  10. Colleen December 22, 2011 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Actually, this wouldn’t bother me. But then again, I grew up eating things like crackling.

    This is a very old and traditional cake recipe. It certainly goes well back into the 19th century, and possibly the 18th. I have an older recipe than the one you have, and it actually calls for salt pork chopped up (very fatty). Things like rendered fat and/or butter weren’t always easily available , whereas salt pork kept for months and nearly every cook had it in the house.

  11. Sarah Commerford December 23, 2011 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Swine-o-licious awesomeness. Thanks for starting my day off right! I love, love, love your blog!

    • RetroRuth December 28, 2011 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Thanks, Sara!!!

  12. Mod Betty / RetroRoadmap.com December 28, 2011 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Oh, I’m so glad you took the fall for all of us and made this. And quite relieved that it just came out OK. Had you said it was tasty I’d feel like I should make it, feeling every bit as squeazed out as you did!

    • RetroRuth December 28, 2011 at 10:01 am - Reply

      Ha ha ha, Mod Betty! Happy to be of service. 🙂

  13. Kim S November 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    This cake is a long standing tradition at the holidays in my family. Although we make it in loaf pans and share the love with our friends and neighbors. We try very hard not to mention the name until they’ve decided they love it.

    We’ve never had problems with fat globs. I don’t remember letting the pork fat cool between adding the boiling water and dry ingredients.

  14. Win F June 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    I am sooooooooo eager to try this. I can just taste Grama’s pork cake now. She would never give mom the recipe!! This will be on our Christmas table, I guarantee it!!

  15. Ted H. July 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Love your website, I could just spend hours on here. And I love this story, it really made me laugh.

    I think the Pork Cake must be related to Mince Meat Pie, which is usually made with beef fat. I guess salt pork was just more convenient for cooks back then.

  16. Seamus October 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Bake for 4 hours? No wonder the gas company put this one in! Though being forewarned about fat grubs and therefore able to brace myself, I kinda want to try it…

  17. Debby October 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Ok… The pork cake recipe goes back 3 generations in my family. Our recipe is similar but calls for boiling coffee instead of water. As a child, never gave the unrendered fat much thought…. The cake was so yummy. Reminded me of fruit cake without the yuky dried fruit. My grandma would make the cake after the yearly butchering was done, sometime after Thanksgiving. So… This week I decided to do an “overhaul” to the recipe & replace the pork fat with something not so gross…. And it turned out pretty good. I replaced the pound of fat with one cup of solid crsco & one cup of applesauce. Try it…. Pretty darn good.

    • Becky P October 6, 2013 at 1:06 pm - Reply

      Okay, so my husband got a very similar recipe from a friend who makes this every year to take on their Fall Colorado hunting trip. They typically eat it for breakfast before heading out each morning. His buddy is unavailable to go this year, so the recipe was passed to me to make. I’ll be making it this week – can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  18. TotallyNotAlanRickman November 25, 2014 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    I was just going through some of my great-grandmother’s cookbooks and I found two separate recipes for pork cake.
    I had to look it up.
    This was a great story.

  19. Juli spann December 25, 2014 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    My grandmother made these every Christmas and as noted in a previous comment, she baked them in loaf pans. What made them delicious was a step that most renditions I have seen leave out is this…she always wrapped them in Muslin cloth or cheesecloth soaked in Mogan David or manaschevietz ( sp?) Concord grape or blackberry wine and let them ‘age’ in plastic wrap or ziploc bags for a week or two. Sometimes adding a splash more wine if they got dry. After the wine soaked in they were so moist and flavorful!

    • Linda November 7, 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply

      That’s what my grandmother did also Juli. Additionally, she would top the cakes with a thick chocolate frosting. Such great memories.

    • Judy December 17, 2015 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      My mother and grandmother made these each year and they only left out the citron. They would soak the raisins in brandy and fold into the cake. They too baked them in loaf pans early in the month of December or November and wrap them in cheese cloth soaked in red wine.

      The whole family loved them and looked forward each Christmas in receiving a Pork Cake. My grandmother said it was a recipe from her Scottish Mother’s hand written notes.

  20. Eileen December 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    My mother in law made these every Christmas as well. They are ok plain, but what makes them DELICIOUS is the vinegar sauce she would pour over them right before serving. As I recall, it was vinegar, butter and sugar (forget the porportions. Anyways, I think I’ll make it again this year, but try butter instead of pork fat. Very difficult to get pork fat and the butcher looks at you like you are crazy

  21. Naomi Ferguson December 23, 2016 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    My Mother would make this recipe every Christmas when I was growing up. It a very old old recipe. I still have this recipe & plan on making it. It is very good you don’t really notice the pork fat since you have the fresh figs, dates, & nuts in this also.

  22. Tracey March 28, 2017 at 7:17 am - Reply

    I’m so very, very ecstatic to find that someone else tried this recipe, because now I don’t have to. I have hundreds of vintage & antique cookbooks with this one in it. I’ve always been curious, but never had the nerve to try it. The look on Tom’s face did it for me. The recipe can stay safely tucked in the pages of my collection and not utilized in my kitchen. Thanks for sharing. ♥

  23. Belinda July 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Just found a recipe that was handwritten by a co-worker of my husband. He (my husband) requested it after tasting it for a work event. It has uncooked pork sausage, coffee,and 3 cups of brown sugar (among the other basic ingredients.) Use mix the sausage with the sugar and other ingredients and bake. After baking you top it with a caramel frosting. I’ve never made the recipe, and after reading your experience, I’m not sure if I ever will.

  24. Karan August 24, 2017 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    I have several pork cake recipes. They are not all for a tube pan… I have been told my Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers made the best pork cakes. I have all the original hand written recipes. I too have been scared at trying to make these. My Mother suggested I do the same as you did, however, she said to strain through a cheese cloth to just get the gelatin. Do you think that would work?

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