The History of Tomato Soup Cake

I will admit this particular post gave me some trouble. I have had the research, recipe tested and photos were taken for about two months now but every time I have tried to write the post I go blank. I am finally glad to have this done and posted!

Tomato soup cake is not a cake I grew up with. I actually never heard of it until I was already an adult and to be quite honest my first taste of this cake was while testing recipes for this post. Though when complying with a list of old recipes I wanted to research for this blog I knew this interesting cake had to make the list.

Who and where was Tomato Soup Cake created?
We have the 1920s to thank for the recipe that we know as Tomato Soup Cake. The recipe was created by Campbell’s Soup Company to use with their condensed tomato soup. According to the Campbell’s Soup website, the first recipe appeared in an undated cookbook probably from the 1920s or possibly the 1930s. Later in the 1950s/1960s when boxed cake mixes came to be popular, we finally have the recipe that many now know.

cookingwithcondensedsoups

The recipe also appeared in this undated booklet from the 1950s.

What ingredients are in Tomato Soup Cake?
It really depends on the time period but most are a spice cake, whether homemade or boxed, with tomato soup and usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting. If you want to create a recipe before World War II, that was of course a homemade spice cake that was probably a little more densely filled with raisins or chopped dates and nuts. Most likely it was baked in a loaf pan or at least a single-layered though there were a few that was a two-layer cake. Some recipes I found were frosted with cream cheese frosting while others were left plain.

A postwar recipe was most decidedly made with a boxed spice cake mix and baked in two layers and frosted with either homemade or store-bought frosting. Some recipes did experiment with other flavors of boxed cake mix (chocolate was a little popular) but most liked the spice cake combination.

1962CampbellsAdTomatoSoupCake

1962 Campbell’s Ad featuring tomato soup cake converted into a fruitcake.

When was Tomato Soup Cake popular?
This is a cake that has piqued the interest of adventurous folks since its creation as Jean Anderson in her book The American Century Cook joked that “America has always been fascinated by cakes made with strange ingredients”. Ceil Dyer in a 1982 printing of her book Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, and Jars said that “a half-century of good cooks have baked this Campbell’s Tomato Soup cake”. She goes on to call it “as moist, delicate, and delicious as it was fifty years ago.”

1939 Tomato Soup Cake

A blurb in a 1939 newspaper encouraging readers to send in for a tomato soup cake recipe.

It does seem that the 1960s and 1970s were the decades that grabbed onto this cake. This is probably due in large part to the cake being the first recipe to appear on a Campbell’s Soup label. An article from the sixties urges you to make this recipe to “surprise your family and guests; with a tempting tomato soup cake made so lusciously filled and topped with a fluffy white frosting”. In the 1970s, Campbell’s printed the recipe in their cookbook called 100 Best Recipes. The newspaper article about this recipe and the cookbook called the cake “a winner for more than forty years and its popularity never waned”. They also called the cake special because it is always moist. Just some random fact is that the cookbook only cost $2.95 at the local book store or one could send in $1.95 and two Campbell’s Soup labels to the company and they would send you a copy.

100bestrecipes1

1970’s cookbook from Campbell’s which included the recipe

Why should I make Tomato Soup Cake?

So let’s be real right off the bat. I am not going to convince all of you to try this cake. Some have already decided that the idea of tomato soup in a cake is just not right. That is alright. I completely understand. If you have not made up your mind yet, here are some reasons why you should give this cake a try. First, you do not really taste the tomato paired with the spice cake. Second, the soup compliments the flavors and really does keep the cake quite moist. One article had a reader who agrees by saying “I know it sounds yucky but the cake is really moist and surprisingly delicious”. Another reader wrote to Heloise, a popular newspaper columnist who offered household tips and recipes, asking for a recipe. She had tasted the cake and was surprised at how much they enjoyed the cake calling it “mouth-watering goodness”. It is a recipe that still has its followers as one in five recipe requests from Campbell’s Soup is for tomato soup cake!

How do you make Tomato Soup Cake?

I tried many recipes therefore I had a hard time deciding between one from the 1930s and the classic cake mix one from the 1960s. Because this is me, I decided to include both. The 1930s recipe will be the main recipe as it is longer and I will include the cake mix version in the notes. 

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Tomato Soup Cake

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The classic and unique cake made with a can of condensed tomato soup. The main recipe makes a dense 1930s single layer version full of raisins and nuts. See notes for the two layer box cake mix version.

Ingredients

For Cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can of condensed tomato soup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins ( chopped dates can be used instead)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts ( I used walnuts)

For Frosting:

  • 6 ounces of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar

Directions

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and well grease an eight or nine inch square pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Then add egg and mix well.
  3. Dissolve the baking soda into the tomato soup and add to butter mixture with the vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix well.
  5. Stir in the raisins and nuts until just combined and pour into baking pan.
  6. Bake for 350 for 30 minutes. Take out and cool.
  7. Frost with following cream cheese frosting and garnish with extra nuts and raisins if desired.

For frosting:

  1. In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Then frost cake.

Notes:

  • To make the box cake version: Mix together a box spice cake mix with a can of condensed tomato soup, 1/4 cup water and 2 eggs. Pour into two well greased cake pans or a 13×9 baking pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or what your chosen cake mix directions say. Let cool and frost with your desired frosting. The eggs can actually be eliminated from this recipe. I have tried it both ways and it works out fine.
  • If you don’t have or don’t desire to use a can of condense tomato soup, you can actually use a small can of tomato sauce or puree instead.


Sources:
Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997.

Burnett, Arlene. “Can Do! These Tomato Soup Cakes Bake Up Tasty Surprises.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 17, 1998.

“Cake and Coffee are Universal Treats”. Williamson Daily News. November 24, 1962.

“Cakes One of the Best Desserts; Handy for Unexpected Company”. Three Forks News. September 17, 1936.

Cornwell, Kate. “Announcing the Great Tomato Soup Cake”. The Age. November 7, 1969.

Dyer, Ceil. “Best Recipes From the Backs of Boxes, Bottles Cans and Jars. New York: Galahad Books, 1982.

“Good Soup Cake”. Chicago Tribune. October 27, 1939.

“Great American Cooking: American Invented Light Cakes”. The Bryan Times. January 26, 1982.

Heloise. “Recipe Can Take the Cake”. Reading Eagle. November 18, 1998.

Heloise “Tomato Soup Cake and Cream Cheese Icing”. The Free Lance Star. September 24, 2005.

Lovegren, Sylvia. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1995.

“Old Favorite Stars in New Cookbooks”. Youngstown Vindicator. October 3, 1970.

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12 thoughts on “The History of Tomato Soup Cake

    • Quaint Cooking says:

      Sorry some how I missed this comment. Yes it was pretty good. I keep flip flopping on whether I can taste the tomato soup or not. I think with the spice cake it pairs perfectly but I am not convinced that it would work with other cake flavors.

      Like

  1. sharon says:

    I have made this many times in the past and forgot about. Thanks for the reminder. It is a good tasting cake, like a spice cake, Will be putting back in the desert rotation in this house.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie says:

    The notes mention vanilla, however I don’t see it in the ingredient list except the frosting. 1 tsp each?? The recipe only prints the first page and refuses to print the second page. Not sure if its a glitch with the website or technology (despite having downloaded the latest updates).

    Liked by 1 person

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