Poor Man's Cake for St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the better known Catholic saints (in my opinion), known to be a peace maker and a lover of animals. Personally, I think he should be known as the patron saint of the poor, as he gave away his life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant to live as a beggar among the poorest people of Assisi. St. Anthony of Padua, a follower of St. Francis and fellow Franciscan, is the patron of the poor, so I suppose he followed very closely in Francis' footsteps.

I was thinking about St. Francis' feast day next week and popped over here to Catholic Cuisine to see what the other lovely contributors had previously posted. I saw the Tonsure Cake that Annie posted last year and thought immediately of a cake that my grandma used to make that I love. It is, appropriately, called a "Poor Man's Cake." It is called a Poor Man's Cake because when my grandma was young, butter and eggs -- traditional cake ingredients -- were dear (expensive), and raisins, nuts, and spices were plentiful. Today the reverse is true, so it's not really a Poor Man's Cake any more, but I love the story behind the origin. Because this cake is baked in a bundt pan, or ring pan, it would make a great Poor Man's Tonsure Cake for St. Francis' Feast Day. This is a very old-fashioned cake, rich with spices, and my family loves it. I hope yours does, too.

Poor Man's Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups water
⅓ cup shortening
½ lb. raisins (I estimate this to be about 2 cups)
1 cup brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. baking soda
½ t. baking powder
1 cup walnuts

Grease and flour bundt or ring pan.
Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place water, shortening, raisins, sugar, cinnamon and cloves in saucepan over medium heat. Cook to boiling and boil for 5 minutes.
Cool completely.

Mix flour and baking powder in a large bowl.

Dissolve baking soda in 1 t. water.
Add raisin mixture and baking soda mixture to flour mixture. Add nuts.

Spoon into prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, until toothpick comes out clean (my ring pan requires less time than a bundt).

Cool 15 minutes.
Turn out of pan and cool completely on a baking rack.

Frost with butter or cream cheese frosting of your choice, or top with the thick butter glaze below.Glaze:
2 T. butter, melted
2 c. powdered sugar
2-4 T. milk
1 t. vanilla extract

In a bowl, mix melted butter with powdered sugar, 2 T. milk, and vanilla until blended (no lumps) and a thick drizzling consistency, adding a little more milk if necessary.
Spoon over the crown of the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides.

If spice cake isn't your thing, you might try these Lemony Sunshine Cupcakes in honor of St. Francis' Canticle to the Sun.

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  1. Thanks Jessica! Great idea and loved your write-up too. I totally agree:-)

  2. Actually, this great post was shared by the Barbara! Great idea Barbara!!

  3. My mother remembers this from her childhood too -- the story is similar -- that the ingredients were less expensive than butter and sugar. She grew up during the Great Depression and the need to economize was foremost for her mother. Then later, during World War II, butter and sugar were rationed and so it's not that they were expensive (which they were), but each family was only allowed a certain amount. I can't find my mom's recipe, but the fact that this one is cooked in a bundt pan makes me think it's very similar. I think I'll try baking it tonight!