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Trifle // 1940s

We love a trifle, and this WW2 recipe found in the pages of our copy of The Manual of Modern Cookery (7th Edition, published in 1943) is beautiful.
Amazingly, 1940s week has fallen on a very special occasion: the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day. It seemed so appropriate to share with you a true 1940s celebration recipe that could very well have been the centrepiece of many a street party spread for folks gathering to rejoice in the knowledge that that the war was finally over after 6 long years. Could there be a better dessert to toast to peace and remembrance over than one that our very ancestors might’ve toasted over on VJ Day themselves? Not a chance.
All in all, we ended up using 3 separate recipes from the same book to make it; the main recipe for the trifle, then another to make the cake base (‘Madeira Cake’) and a final recipe for the custard (‘Custard Sauce (Plain)’), and also used our 1930s gooseberry jam – the star of last week’s video.
Anyone making this recipe in the UK at the time would of course have had to save up on their ration ingredients. Percentage-wise, for an average person on the tightest ration allowance, making this trifle from start to finish (including the madeira cake) would’ve used up about 60% of their weekly sugar allowance, 75% of their weekly margarine allowance, 17% of their weekly milk allowance, nearly all of their weekly allowance for jam and preserves and double their weekly allowance of eggs (which would probably be the biggest issue, unless you kept hens).
We aren’t sure about how easy the cherries, candied angelica and pistachios would’ve been to come by; we expect that they were probably rather scarce. We also weren’t sure about the cream - we know that cream was rationed, but not how much by… although custard powder seems like it wasn’t too heavily rationed. In any case, with or without decoration, savvy rationers would’ve very much been able to make this trifle and if they were as impressed as we were, they’d be thinking about it for days after tucking in!
Original Recipe: 'Trifle' (Book 6, 1943)
Speed: About 1hr (incl. time for the custard to cool) | Serves: 8-10


  • A sponge cake

  • Jam, about 10 tbsp.

  • ½ pint of custard, flavoured with either a little wine, fruit juice or flavouring (we used vanilla bean paste)

  • ½ pint of whipping cream

  • Flavouring (we used vanilla bean paste)

  • 28g sugar

  • Glacé cherries

  • Candied angelica

  • Pistachios



1. Cut sponge cake into slices and spread on one side with the jam. Place the slices in a glass trifle dish, a few on the bottom and the rest around the sides.

2. Make ½ pint of custard (we used a recipe from the same cookbook) and flavour this with either wine, fruit juice or flavouring. When 'slightly cool', pour over the sponge cake. Allow the custard to get completely cold before moving on to the cream.

Note: We weren't sure about the idea of adding wine/fruit juice to custard, so we stuck to flavouring and used vanilla bean paste.

3. Whip the cream, add in the sugar and flavouring and then pipe on top of the custard. We used a star nozzle and piped straight upwards to give that traditional floret design.

4. Finally, top with the cherries, angelica and pistachios as desired!


Original Recipe for 'Trifle'

BOOK 6: Manual of Modern Cookery, 7th Edition (1943) Author: Jessie Lindsay & V.H. Mottram Publisher: University of London Press Ltd. (War-Time Address: St. Hugh's School, Bickley, Kent, England, U.K.)

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