In Search of Strawberry Cake


I had a request recently for a strawberry cake recipe. I’ve never made strawberry cake (except from a box, a long time ago), so I went on the hunt for a good one. The logical place to start was with my Treasure Trove book. Those ladies from the 1940s could make anything. Out of practically nothing. You could probably give those ladies a couple pieces of wire and a shoelace and they’d go all MacGyver on it and come out with a pumpkin pie. And so I was not surprised at all when I did, indeed, find a strawberry cake recipe.

It was submitted by Mrs. Brooks Randolph from Lost Creek, West Virginia.

The recipe uses six eggs (SIX EGGS! this is the recipe for me, I have dozens of eggs), butter, sugar, strawberry preserves, flour, buttermilk, and a mix of spices, all organized in complete disorder in the ingredient list.

I bet she didn’t mean giant eggs, so I better not use these.

I worry about the chickens who laid these eggs.

The instructions leave a little to be desired. However! We shall press on!

(The following is my re-organized ingredients list and commentary on Mrs. Randolph’s directions.)

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How to make Strawberry Cake:

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, whites/yolks separated
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
8 ounces strawberry jam

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add beaten egg yolks and mix well.

Combine flour, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium-size bowl.

Mrs. Randolph called for 2 small teaspoons each of baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda. What is a small teaspoon?

Mrs. Randolph? Teaspoons don’t come in small, medium, and large. They come in quarter, half, and full. MRS. RANDOLPH!


I looked up some other cake recipes, checking out the baking powder and baking soda measurements. This wasn’t all that helpful since every cake recipe I looked at called for something different. I wanted the cake to rise, of course, but I didn’t want to go overboard. I also thought the spices were a bit much if she really meant a “scant” teaspoon. Maybe to Mrs. Randolph, a small teaspoon is a 1/4 teaspoon? WHO KNOWS. I went with the measurements listed in my ingredients list above. If you want it spicier, go for it. I could be wrong!

If I’m wrong, it’s Mrs. Randolph’s fault.

Combine buttermilk and baking soda. Why combine the buttermilk and baking soda before adding to the rest of the batter? I don’t know. I went with it because it was one of the few parts of the directions that Mrs. Randolph bothered to detail, so she must have thought it was important.

FYI, if you need buttermilk and don’t have it, in a pinch–place one tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup. Add milk to the one-cup line. Stir then let sit for 5 minutes. This makes a reasonable facsimile for buttermilk that works in most recipes.

Add flour/spice mixture and buttermilk/soda mixture alternatively, mixing well. Mrs. Randolph didn’t say to beat this, but I did.

This makes a fairly stiff cake batter, but we’re not done yet!

This is a jar of strawberry jam I canned last summer. I was tempted to use the strawberry-lemon marmalade I just canned, but I was trying to be true to Mrs. Randolph–despite how ornery she was with her directions–so I went with the regular strawberry jam.

Fold in the beaten egg whites. This was the point where I got worried about whether this would actually fit in two 9-inch cake pans. This made a huge batter.

I used to have three cake pans but I lost one. How can you lose a cake pan? I’m still missing my other mixer. And most recently, I lost a set of measuring spoons.

I ended up going with a large tube pan.

Whatever you use, spray or grease it, add the batter, and stick it in the oven. Mrs. Randolph, OF COURSE, didn’t tell me what temperature to bake it on, but I went with 350-degrees.

Mostly because my oven is STUCK on 350.

I baked it at 350-degrees until a toothpick came out clean, which took an hour and a half. (Put aluminum foil over the top after about 40-45 minutes so it doesn’t over-brown.) Of course, if you’re baking this in round cake layers or in a 13 x 9 pan, your baking time will vary.

Mrs. Randolph suggests a caramel icing. Naturally, she doesn’t include instructions for that. But I am here to save the day!

Caramel Icing:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup milk
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter over low heat in a small pot. Add brown sugar and boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and bring to a boil again. Let cool to room temperature then add the vanilla and powdered sugar (gradually). Use more or less powdered sugar depending on the consistency desired.

I scattered fresh, chopped strawberries and grated lemon peel on top. I only iced the top and let a bit cascade down the sides. My kids complain if I put a lot of frosting on a cake. They’re not big on frosting.

I still haven’t put away all the candles, syrup, and marmalade I’ve made in the past several days.

I have no idea whether I made this cake the way Mrs. Randolph made it, but it was delicious just the same. If you added the full measure of spices (assuming she really meant teaspoons), you’d have a full-blown spice cake, which I think might overwhelm the strawberry taste. As I made it, it’s spicy enough but it doesn’t take over. However, you might like it with more spices! Up to you.

If you bake it, let me know how you make it and how it comes out! And, you know, if you’ve got a line on Mrs. Randolph, I’d like to talk to her. And maybe give her a spankin’.

See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes and save it to your recipe box.

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  1. margiesbooboo says:

    looks yummy!

    but what i want to know is the state of mrs. cotswald? any new lambs?

  2. Rose H says:

    Oooh, you’ve published those picture just to torture your readers haven’t you? I’ve put on two pounds just reading that post! 😆 Delicious.

  3. CindyP says:

    That looks delicious!!! And to this day, the best recipes come from those type of books. I always pick them up at yard sales when I can find them……..tried and true recipes from a country living lady :hungry:

    I read/heard somewhere that they had 1 measuring spoon. Some things were always measured with it being heaping, some things were level…it depended on what you were measuring. People just knew this. Same way with cups.

    Have you noticed any of the animals baking some treats somewhere? They have a mixer, cake pan, and now some measuring spoons….. CLH baking up something for her new man maybe? 😆

  4. carsek says:

    That sounds like a lot of spices but it looks yummy. I agree with CindyP. Check the goat barn for a new kitchen and accessories!!

  5. Sheila Z says:

    My kitchen is missing the blade to the blender. Do you suppose it has run off with your missing items? It’s a conspiracy I say!

    Cake looks goods. The Strawberry Lemon Marmalade sounds like it would work well in this recipe. It could stand up and talk with all the spices in the cake.

  6. Carolyn says:

    I have read some old cookbooks and I agree with you, they are really fun. I heard somewhere that they used regular spoons for measuring while cooking. So perhaps a small teaspoon would be the spoon that we normally use for eating with. In contrast to a soup spoon or a serving spoon. And some of the old silverware, the spoons are quite small, smaller anyway that a lot of the newer things you see.

    I so enjoy your blog, creative and humorous, thanks.

  7. Hlhohnholz says:

    For those of you who don’t keep buttermilk on hand, powdered buttermilk can be found in your baking aisle. It’s very inexpensive, and great for baking. That way I don’t have to keep fresh buttermilk around!

  8. Peggy says:

    Tomorrow is my birthday, would you send me a piece of that lovely cake? It does look wonderful and I think you did a great job of converting the recipe to our more accurate measurements.

  9. Cate says:

    Oh, I am definitely making this cake over the weekend. I found a few jars of strawberry jam the other day and was looking for a good way to use them up quickly. Thanks Suzanne!

  10. KentuckyFarmGirl says:

    Beautiful cake and I bet it is delicious! You should read some of the Amish cookbooks that I have. Some of them actually have copies of handwritten recipes passed down from their ancestors. Some of their cookbooks I buy for certain recipes, others I buy just to sit and read.

  11. Phyllis Ryan says:

    I remember my mother complaining about her mother-in-law, because she baked with “a pinch, a small handfull, or a large handful.” And to try to duplicate was nearly impossible. At least you got measurements.

  12. Karen says:

    I love, love, love old cookbooks – and I have many. My favorite is a FIRST EDITION Betty Crocker. The homemaking advice is hilarious, as are the illustrations. The cake sounds delicious!

  13. Shirley says:

    When I was a young girl back in the 40’s, my mom never had measuring spoons or measuring cups. she used plain ole’ tea spoons and reg tablespoons found in with all the rest of her silverware, which by the way none ever matched. If something called for a cup, she just used one of her reg coffe cups which never matched either.She had to bake on a coal cook stove don’t be so hard on Mrs Randolph, besides, she might be some distant kin of yours or mine since I was born over in that neck of the woods. I must try your recipe it does look good. Thanks for sharing it. And Please check on those babies.

  14. lavenderblue says:

    My mom always mixed her baking soda and baking powder in with whatever liquids were called for in the recipe. I think these things must have been “clumpier” in years gone by. She said it was so you didn’t bite into a big lump of baking soda. Bitter, bitter stuff. If there was no liquid in the recipe, she’d use a “small teaspoon” of water to mix it in.

    Whenever I’ve tried this trick, I didn’t think my baked stuff rose as well as when I just mixed it in with the dry ingredients. Looks like it worked for you though.

  15. MMHONEY says:


  16. Melissa says:

    The Cake Doctor Cookbook has a delicious strawberry cake recipe that tastes like icecream.

  17. Julia says:

    At least Mrs. Randolf gave you directions–some of my grandmother’s oldest recipes are nothing but lists of ingredients.

    And measurements in small teaspoons! Mysterious as the size is, at least there was internal consistency. my granny-in-law (a remarkable woman, raised on a farm, lived to be 104) used her hands to measure. A certain amount of salt in the palm of her hand, or a bit of baking soda in the crook of her index finger. When I was trying to get a recipe from her, she would measure her way and then I made her dump whatever it was on a piece of wax paper to be re-measured with a measuring spoon.

    Granny always put her soda directly in the buttermilk as well. I think that it does a better job of leavening that way.
    In her dumpling recipe, you could use sweet milk or buttermilk. If you use buttermilk, you were supposed to use more soda.

  18. Grandma Tillies Bakery says:

    The scientific reason why you mix the baking soda and buttermilk:

    ACID + CARBONATE —> H2O + CO2 + a salt (not necessarily NaCl)

    The CO2 is the bubbles of gas you see that provides leavening. As suggested, the molasses or sugars act as the acidic agent to force this reaction to release CO2. The baking soda is the carbonate actually sodium bicarbonate (Na2CO3), so depending what acid gets used will influence what “salt” gets produced, though it will be some combination of sodium (Na) with another element present in the acid’s make-up. Often vinegars or buttermilks are used as the acids.

  19. Barbee' says:

    Interesting post – AND – interesting comments. Lovely cake!

  20. Michelle says:

    Your kids don’t like much frosting? I thought cake was just a CARRIER for frosting!

  21. Conny says:

    The strawberry cake looks divine! Thanks for testing the recipe for us – definitely worth a try. Lost a cake pan? Try the chicken coop: when I was a child we used one to hold chicken feed. :clover:

  22. Maria63303 says:

    Very interesting looking recipe. The pictures looked great, may have to try this out. :snuggle:

  23. Denise :) says:

    I read Carolyn’s explanation about the ‘small’ teaspoon and agree that it was probably something like that. Or they abbreviated teaspoon and tablespoon the same (tsp) and wanted people to know she was referring to the smaller of the two? Or, perhaps she meant a ‘scant’ teaspoon. I love old recipes! My Grandma Willie *purposefully* left the measurements off her written recipes, so no one could use them but her! I remember one Christmas after she’d passed, that my mom & I spend an entire weekend in the kitchen trying to figure out her wonderful cookie recipes! LOL!

  24. samantha says:

    i have a GREAT strawberry recipe that uses fresh or frozen berries. it is wicked moist and so yummy! Here is the link to it, i have it posted on my blog:

  25. Yvonne says:

    It did seem much like a spice cake recipe, especially with the caramel icing. Different than I would have expected. I thought a cream cheese icing would be good. You did a wonderful job with the recipe, wish I could taste it! :clover:

  26. trish says:

    Ooh poor Mrs. Randolph took a beating! LOL Damn, that cake looks soooo good. I can’t believe your family isn’t crazy about frosting.

  27. princessvanessa says:

    Julia, my mom taught me to measure the same way way as your granny-in-law. She knew the recipe by rote and didn’t need to, as she said, “dirty up” measuring spoons or cups. Now I do the same for my “know by heart” recipes.

  28. joycee says:

    That’s why I have NO recipes from my Mom. She never wrote down measurements or directions, she just stirred it up and it was good! I didn’t have a clue how to fix anything when I first married. I would go to the library, check out cookbooks galore then copy down recipes. Eventually we had meals that were worth eating!

  29. whaledancer says:

    I haven’t posted here before, but I’ve been enjoying reading your blog, going back to the beginning and working my way forward.

    I may be able to shed some light on the “small teaspoon” question. I love old cookbooks, so I looked up the standard measurements in my 1904 White House Cookbook and my 1919 Los Angeles Universalist Church Cookbook. At that time, a tablespoon was the same as today, a half ounce liquid, but there were 4 teaspoons in a tablespoon. By the time of my 1940’s cookbooks, the standard measurement was 3 teaspoons to a tablespoon. I suspect that during that period of transition, people were still using their old recipes and just specifying that it was a “small teaspoon.” If I’m right, 3/4 teaspoon should work.

    A coffeespoon, on the other hand, was 1/2 of today’s teaspoon.

  30. Anne says:

    i asked for a recipie one time for lemon crackers/lemon cookies/ammonia cookies (depending on who you were asking). i did get a copy of how to make “lemon crackers”, which were my favorite version. but it calls for “10 cents worth” of baking ammonia. anyone know how to convert that to a normal measurement? 😆

    and our aunt went to her drugstore near washington dc and asked for bakers ammonia to make these cookies. the pharmacist came out from the back of the store to see WHO want bakers ammonia. when he saw my aunt, he laughed and said he should have know it was a WV girl.

  31. coffeefrappe says:

    HI Suzanne

    Still loving your blog! Thanks for the giggles and pictures of yummy country food and baby animals. I wanted to comment on your baffling recipe. I don’t really have much to add to the measuring spoon debate, but collecting old recipe books, I do have some of these types of ingredient lists/recipes and agree that the measurements can be tricky.

    I live in TN and this list of ingredients leads me to believe that (except for the the strawberry preserves, the recipes usually call for blackberry jam, possibly seedless) this is a jam cake. Jam cake is a spice cake, which would explain the overpowering amt of spices (at least for strawberries), made with buttermilk and covered in a sugary, poured caramel icing.

    The ones I have tasted don’t really taste of berries, but spice and of course the caramel icing with the possible addition of nuts, either in the cake or over the icing. While yours takes a left turn out of spice cake territory, (drat that wily Mrs. Randolph and her mysterious measurements!) it still sounds delish.

  32. Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm says:

    I am impressed that your kids don’t like a lot of icing! You are such a good mother with great, healthy kids!

    Good looking cake!

  33. Julie says:

    Made the cake on Monday night but used my blackberry jam instead. Cake is great although I probably should have cooked it a little less. (I got busy watching a movie and kinda forgot about it in the oven – oops!)

    Even made the caramel icing (although my impatient family wanted the frosting still warm with the still warm cake) Warm cake+warm frosting=gooey, yummy, fabulous dessert experience!

  34. zteagirl71 says:

    Hilarious Suzanne…I love Ye Old Recipes too, and figuring them out is my kind of detective work. I too was wondering what in the hayhaw is a “small tsp.” Good for you in chiding that Mrs. Randolph and her crazy measuring spoon antics, and elusive instructions! But I’m sure back then, everyone knew what a small tsp. was, and why it was so important to put the soda with the buttermilk before adding it to the batter. The cake looks delicious, well done Detective McMinn, you’ve solved another Ye Old Recipe mystery!

  35. MousE says:

    Suzanne, are you whipping the egg whites before adding?

  36. MousE says:

    Hi, so I assumed we beat the egg whites… I’m frustrated because I made this precisely as written and the cake didn’t rise, in fact it sank when I removed it from the oven. I wasted good eggs and butter….. argh. I have no luck with cake baking, most frustrating.

    It tastes good but I’m back to a box mix as I have to make a birthday cake.

  37. MousE says:

    Thanks, Suzanne, I’ve now tried four different recipes…. and one is good enough, I really wanted yours to work as all the recipes I’ve tried from here usually do! I think what I need to do is practice making basic yellow cakes from your recipe, and adding different flavorings as part of the liquid. My coworkers will love the experiments.

    Question: do you have your yellow cake recipe with fresh milk, or just make as printed?

    Thanks for responding. I suspect the fault may be in the baker, ie me. It’s voodoo, I tell you! :dancingmonster:

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