Lemon Rhubarb Cake – A Mid-Century Cake Recipe Test

Posted on Jul 8 2013 - 6:02am by RetroRuth

I don’t know about you guys, but I got a TON of rhubarb in my garden this year. So, I decided to make some mid-century desserts with it!


Here is a lovely piece of cake that I made from a vintage handwritten recipe card that I got with a recipe collection I recently bought from eBay.

Lemon Rhubarb Cake
An interesting take on Pillsbury's Strawberry Shortcut Cake
  • 2 heaping cups mini marshmallows
  • Lemon cake mix
  • 5 cups diced rhubarb
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 small pkg raspberry Jell-O
  1. Grease a 9x13 pan and spread marshmallows evenly over the bottom.
  2. Prepare lemon cake mix per box instructions and pour batter over marshmallows.
  3. Mix together rhubarb, sugar and powdered Jell-O. Spoon over cake batter.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.


Here’s the thing about these recipe cards. Many, many, MANY times, the recipe on the handwritten cards isn’t an original recipe at all, but a copied recipe from a cookbook or a promotional recipe that has been adapted or changed. Which I think is fun, since then I get to play detective and figure out the origins of the recipe. But the detection on this one goes to my mom. The handwritten recipe card called this “Lemon Rhubarb Cake” but she recognized it as having its origins in another recipe: Pillsbury’s Strawberry Shortcut Cake.


This scan of the recipe is from my mother’s friend (and my friend!) Carol, who sent me this recipe over a year ago with these notes:

I increased the mini marshmallows to 2 cups and use a cake mix instead of the “from Scratch” cake mix.

I substitute the other fruit choices ( Rhubarb, Raspberries, Apples and Cranberries, etc for the strawberries with equal amounts to the strawberry recipe..

Does that make sense??. The cake is good with any fruit combo..


So, it seems the person who wrote this recipe card had the same ideas as Carol did, changing out the fruit and using a cake mix. This time I used a cake mix, but I am definitely going to make the “from scratch” cake topping next time!







Can you see the marshmallows on the top and the rhubarb on the bottom?? I love mid-century “magic” desserts where the layers rearrange themselves!

Tom TastingIMG_2010

“What do you think?”

“Pretty good. The top tastes like a cake mix with marshmallows on it, but the bottom part is really good.”

The Verdict: Good

From the Tasting Notes:

This was a sweet dessert! Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but there was a lot of sugar in it. The marshmallows were fun in that you put them on the bottom and they rose to the top, but they didn’t really add much in terms of flavor. The bottom layer with the rhubarb was really good and the lemon cake tasted very good with the rhubarb. As an experiment, when I make this again I am going to use the cake base from the Pillsbury recipe, leave out the marshmallows and sprinkle the top with cinnamon and sugar before I put it in the oven!

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

  1. Beth July 8, 2013 at 8:41 am - Reply

    I like the changes you’re going to make next time. Lemon and rhubarb go so well together, that they need very little adornment.

    • RetroRuth July 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm - Reply

      Too true, Beth!

  2. David July 8, 2013 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    I’ve never tried rhubarb in anything, but I’d love to try it. I don’t seem to see it in stores here in California.

    My grandmother had a baking secret when making sheet cakes, muffins, biscuits and cornbread — she covered and sealed the baking dish with foil as soon as it came out of the oven — and left it on for 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes transformed those baked goods into soft, moist deliciousness.

    • dkzody July 8, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      I do that with meats and poultry; never thought of doing it with baked goods. I’ll have to try that sometime.

    • RetroRuth July 9, 2013 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      Yeah, our growing season here in MI is a bit off from you guys, but you should try it with frozen rhubarb if they carry it near you!

      Also – must try that foil trick! Sounds like a winner!

  3. dkzody July 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Rhubarb season is long over here in Fresno. It’s the same with strawberries. They are both an April/May fruit. Berries just finished so now it’s melons and stone fruit until the grapes roll in around mid July.

    • RetroRuth July 9, 2013 at 3:38 pm - Reply

      Stone fruit would work with this recipe, too! 🙂

  4. David July 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    I wasn’t using my brain yesterday. I had a ton of strawberries leftover from the 4th that needed to be used, but I ended up making a big smoothie. Wish I’d made this recipe instead — because I also have a ton of whipped cream that needs to be used!

  5. Brittany_Va-VoomVintage July 9, 2013 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    I just found your blog and absolutely love it!! I can’t wait to find some time to sit down and read through old posts. I often find some fantastic recipes in old magazines and books but others can be questionable so I’m really interested to see what you thought of some of the funky ones. Like they say, you never know till you try it! 🙂

    • RetroRuth July 12, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

      Thanks, Brittany! Glad you love it! 🙂

  6. Tipsykit July 10, 2013 at 12:12 am - Reply

    This looks great! And such a good jumping-off point for variations! I’m thinking maybe sour cherries with almond cake….

    • RetroRuth July 12, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

      I just made an almond/sour cherry cake last night! It turned out really well, so that combo gets a thumbs up from me. 🙂

  7. Joanna January 10, 2014 at 3:51 am - Reply

    I just discovered your blog tonight. My mom makes this recipe. The first one with the rhubarb and raspberry jello. Only she uses a white cake mix instead of lemon. she sprinkels the rhubarb, sugar, raspberry jello powder and marshmallows into the bottom of a prepared pan. I want to say over the years she’s cut down on the amount of sugar. The she puts the cake batter on the top. it’s baked and cooled some and then flipped over and served like an upside down cake. It doesn’t taste heavy on marshmallows

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