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Lothian Health Services Archive

First World War Cookbook

To commemorate the First World War, and inspired by the Edible Archive, we are creating a First World War Cookbook. By using Scotland's archive collections - including home recipes, official documents, photographs and more - the cookbook will develop between 2014 and 2018 into a fascinating and interactive resource.

Our first addition is for Gingerbread Sponge, a recipe originally published in The Falkirk Herald in 1916, vividly brought to life by Laura Macdonald in the historic kitchens of Callendar House.

Watch Laura in our cookery video below and have a go at recreating the recipe for yourself. You can also find out more about food in Scotland during the First World War.

Gingerbread Sponge (1916)

In an age before supermarkets and takeaways, cooking and baking skills were essential and recipes were treasured by families and passed down through generations. These skills were put to the test during times of war when basic staples were scarce due to price rises and supply issues.

Recipes were also regularly printed in newspapers, with The Falkirk Herald being no exception. Laura Macdonald, a learning assistant based at Callendar House, chanced across instructions in the archive on how to make gingerbread sponge from a 1916 edition of the paper. She decided to try it for herself, a full 98 years after it was first printed.

A keen baker and food blogger, Laura is a fan of trying old recipes, even if they do present a few problems along the way. For example, ingredients have changed so much; the kind of flour we use today is different, and older recipes didn’t use raising agents.

The Falkirk Herald recipe posed fewer problems, even if the instructions could be unhelpfully vague at times. After some experimentation the final product was a delicate, moist cake laced with the warmth of ginger.


1. Take a half pound of golden syrup, two ounces of butter, one egg, half an ounce of ground ginger, ten ounces of flour, two ounces of sugar, about two tablespoons of milk and half a teaspoon of soda.

2. Put the flour, ginger and sugar into a bowl.

3. In a saucepan, stir the milk, butter and syrup until dissolved, then stir in the dry ingredients.

4. Dissolve the soda in a little milk, add this and the well-beaten egg to the mixture, pour into a shallow tin lined with greased paper and bake for thirty or forty minutes in a slow oven.

5. Cut into fingers when cold.

6. Laura recommends using finely grated fresh ginger rather than ground, and substituting self-raising flour for plain and bicarbonate soda. She suggests the cake should be baked at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.