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The History of Carrot Cake

As far back as the 10th century, Arabic chefs were using carrots as sweeteners in desserts, although the modern orange-rooted carrot wasn’t cultivated by the Dutch until the 17th century. The first carrot cake recipe appeared in a French cookbook published in Britain in 1827. It was preceded by a recipe for carrot pudding pie, which dates to around 1747. But carrots didn’t take center stage in Western desserts until the 1940s. During World War II, England rationed sweeteners for the war effort, so the government promoted the use of carrots as an alternative sweetener for wartime cakes and puddings. Curiously, the British also ran a related propaganda campaign that claimed carrots helped improve night vision. Why? The campaign was meant to hide new, cutting-edge technology from the Nazis. During the Blitzkrieg, British RAF pilots were able to target and shoot down Luftwaffe bombers thanks to a new, secret radar technology called on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI). It was first used by the RAF in 1939. The British ran a propaganda campaign that attributed the pilots’ seemingly impressive night vision to eating carrots in an effort to hide this critical technology. As part of these efforts, the British public was led to believe that eating carrots would help them see better during the blackouts enacted during the Blitzkrieg. This information coupled with the rationing of sugar led to a rash of new recipes that utilized carrots — and carrot cake was one of them. In fact, the government even published "War Cookery Leaflet No. 4," which contained a recipe for Dr. Carrot’s Healthy Cake. However, this early version of carrot cake did not include cream cheese icing. In fact, carrot cake wasn’t typically paired with the characteristically rich cream cheese icing we are now familiar with until the 1960s. Since then, it has remained a favorite. In fact, carrot cake is still a beloved dessert today, although most of its fans don’t know the complex history behind its rise to popularity!

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