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?
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
Haaaaaaaaaa! God, y’all seriously grossed out this vegetarian but I haven’t laughed this hard in weeks.
ugh. i really wish i had not read this story. you have converted me to a vegetarian. barf
I knew you would like this one, Eartha. Us eating strange animal parts always makes you smile. 🙂
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.
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.
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!
I sooooo want to make this just to gross “Mr” Roadside out 🙂
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. 🙂
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.
It’s truly a frightening cake for veggies and meat-eaters alike!
Never thought a cake could sound so bad!!!
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! 🙂
You know, a bacon cake would have totally been better…maybe you are onto something there….
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!
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!
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.
Swine-o-licious awesomeness. Thanks for starting my day off right! I love, love, love your blog!
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!
Ha ha ha, Mod Betty! Happy to be of service. 🙂
I know, right??
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. 🙂
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.
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!!
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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!
That’s what my grandmother did also Juli. Additionally, she would top the cakes with a thick chocolate frosting. Such great memories.
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.
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
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.
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. ♥
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.
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?
I got a great deal of enjoyment reading about your experience with Pork Cake. Pork cake was a Christmas tradition in my family when I was growing up in the 1940s. I was born and raised on my grandfather’s large farm in western Kentucky and not only was there lots of pork consumed, in various ways, it was on the hoof first and the fall slaughtering was something we looked forward to because there were special treats that followed.
Meemaw, my great grandmother was very old and no longer cooked but she did supervise and one of the things was the making of the special pork mincemeat that was made with cooked pork plus pork fat but the mixture that was added was cooked in the oven and then on top of the stove, with some more ingredients before being canned.
I never bothered to can it, I just stored it in freezer containers until I was ready to make the Christmas cake or use the mincemeat in hand pies, stuffing for chickens or turkeys, in rolled pork roast or centered in a standing crown of pork roast, or in a dressing side dish.
The original recipe was enormous. My aunt cut it down when she took over the prep in the 1960s and I cut it down even further in the 1980s.
I posted the recipe on eGullet.org in October 2004 and there is a link at the bottom of the recipe I posted on my blog in 2010 to the thread where another eG member made it and posted photos.
At my age now, (79) it’s a bit difficult for me to find the energy to make this but I have assembled the ingredients and will give it a try if I feel up to it. I know a lot of people don’t like fruitcake but this seems to be an exception.
Here’s the link to the recipe on my blog: http://www.asenjigalblogs.com/resurrected-recipes-from-long-ago/meemaws-pork-fruit-cake-and-pork-mincemeat-recipe/
And there is another, even older Christmas cake – a “fruited cocoa cake” that isn’t quite as much work and which everyone loves. I made a large one and some small ones for a holiday party one year (a dog club) and a man who “absolutely hates fruitcake” according to his wife, had 3 generous pieces.
The beauty of that cake is that it requires no “aging” but it keeps well, for two or three weeks, if there is any left to keep.
This reminds me… Last Mother’s Day, I was looking for a new way to doctor up baked beans for brunch. That’s when I saw it… on the Bush’s Beans website, they had a baked bean cake. I was horrified. My mother insisted that I make it for Father’s Day. So, I did. It was basically a super-moist spice cake that people ate and enjoyed. I couldn’t get over seeing the diced onion in the beans on the way to the blender. I also didn’t share the secret ingredient until after dessert.
i have both made & eaten Pork Cake and found it quite good. the entire family liked it. the biggest issue in the family was the molasses not the pork
i wrote in my blog about the challenge i entered when i made it:
my recipe was from America’s Cookbook New & Revised Edition 1944
I believe this was created with these thoughts in mind.. A frugal use of leftovers perhaps….. or the only meat in the house that day. and how to make it ‘palatable, different and even rather sweet. Its an Interesting Recipe – Don’t let your Modern sensibilities be put off by the name/ingredients, we have quite enjoyed it
Further thoughts: several things.
First this was called a Cake.- from all the family’s point of view it was closer to a fruit cake than any form of cake we usually eat & its cooked in a bread loaf pan.. The ‘cake’ is very dense and moist. As None of us actually like the fruits called for in various fruit cakes we chose Not to include most of them.
The elephant in the room: the PORK. I am a fan of pork & find the meat sweet & pleasant but I did wonder what it would taste like in cake form. The very odd thing about this cake was you cannot actually Taste the pork. Yet its sweet & moist and dense.
The only complaint about the cake was the molasses taste that some don’t like – even the apricots & raisins were not really noticeable as a separate individual taste. The whole thing blended really nicely. – it was delicious plain, butter, and cream cheese went well with it.