Food historians believe that the origins of carrot cake date back to the European Middle Ages. Carrots were used in place of costly sugar to make sweet – (ish) puddings and tarts etc.
There was a revival of interest in carrot cake during WWII in the UK, when rationing again made sugar a scarce commodity. As for Australia, well there was mention of it in the 1930s. Here is a recipe published in Perth’s Sunday Times in 1934.
Note the boiling of the carrots. There was a lot of boiling going on in those days. 😨
Here is a recipe fifty years later from The Australian Women’s Weekly. Naturally they assumed everyone would know what a lamington tin was.
Carrot cake really took off in Australia with the arrival of our cafe culture, and is surely one of the most popular accompaniments to a cup of coffee.
I took this phot0 of my associate Editor Des with a slice of carrot cake at the NSW State Library cafe in 2014. Yes, it’s very traditional, with soft lemon icing.
Ten years later the same cafe’s carrot cake has evolved into a round, stand alone cake with a fancy petal decoration . Very pretty indeed. However it was a bit dense. Also, the icing was too thick and not lemony enough.
I think I detect a trend. On the same day I went to the cafe at the Museum of Modern Art down by Circular Quay where another little work of art arrived. Perfectly placed dollops of cream topped with citrus rind and pumpkin seeds. This time the individual cake was gluten free. As I feared, it was a bit heavy, but too nice to share with my companion so I didn’t mention those two forks.
The Victorian Agricultural Shows Association run an annual competition to find the best carrot cake cook. All entrants must use the same recipe. Wow….crushed pineapple, I didn’t expect that.
The 2023 winner was Sandra Weber.
MY OWN WINNER IN THE CARROT CAKE STAKES
Well, I have to say that the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted was in the UK. It was at the Goring Riverside Tearoom, where my partner and I took a break while walking the Thames Path in 1996. I described it in my book All Along the River as ‘…moist, open textured, seeded with currants and slathered in tangy lemon butter’. Unfortunately the lovely lady declined to share the recipe with me because she was afraid rival teashops might get their hands on it. She was quite elderly at the time, so I’m sure she is no longer there. However, the tearoom still exists and maybe that secret recipe has been passed down to the current owners.