The Church Lady Cookbook Dialogs: Sugar, Sugar, Ah Honey, Honey, You’ve Got Me Wanting You

4 min readApr 21, 2020


In 1975 I learned to bake during the sugar shortage. I was the most unlikely and reluctant candidate for the position of housewife that ever graced a kitchen. While I was figuring out the housewife/mother thing, the steepest learning curve I climbed was managing a meager food budget meant to feed 2 adults and one hungry infant. I learned to bake bread, as well as other sweets from scratch. I purchased flour in 25 lb. bags and doing the math for the cost of all the ingredients, figured that my loaves cost $0.25 a peice. I used my baking to take up time that stretched endlessly and to eat my way out of boredom. This shortage forced me to figure out how to substitute other types of sweeteners for refined white sugar if my comfort food of brownies, cookies and cake were going to measure up and get me through all the rest of this homemaker stuff.

The sugar shortage was caused by some shenanigans around sugar imports to the US, price fixing, and poor crop output. The price of refined sugar went from $0.85 a pound to $2.35 a pound. A nearly 200% increase. By this time Americans had become addicted to sugar, and we were consuming 100 lbs. per person per year, accounting for a large portion of our daily caloric intake.

Helpfully this shortage coincided with the eat-healthy-hippie era and dire warnings against letting kids eat too much sugar. It was claimed that too much sugar caused hyperactivity and other other disasters for our kids. Thankfully women’s magazine of the era were on it. I was able to find information about what to do about this sugar shortage and by default revel in the smug feeling of feeding my family a healthy diet rather than a poverty induced one. In these articles I found what I needed to know about how to do without sugar. These articles focused mostly on the harm of sugar rather than the chemistry of substitutions and I discovered that the balance between dry and wet ingredients was vital and flavors and textures changed as well. It pays to experiment with the recipe and prepare for a disaster or two.

Cooks and bakers during the depression and war years found these shortages and out of reach prices a deterrent was well and offered suggestions for substitutes. I found this list of sugar substitutes in my grandmother’s church lady cookbook by The Baxter Street Christian School of Grand Rapids, MI, and the Baxter Mutual Helpers Club, Squad 4, from January 1945. They offered the following list:

This list is still relevant for what ever reason sugar is not in your diet a good resource. Gramma knew what she was doing.

Because cakes are fussy things they are harder to substitute for, here are some recipes that are either low on refined sugar and more easily substituted or one that does not use refined sugar at all.

The recipes are from the kitchens of the good ladies at the Pine Rest Sanitarium and Christian Psychopathic Hospital Circles (date unknown, guessing the 1940's). My grandmother, Mrs. Arthur Smitter, was a member of the Cutlerville Circle.

The Dutch Honey recipe, submitted by Mrs. C. Lenheer, calls for a 1/4 cup of refined sugar, but is mostly sweetened with brown sugar, honey and molasses. The refined sugar could be eliminated and the other sweeteners could be expanded maintaining the balance between wet and dry ingredients. If you try this recipe let me know how it turns out and what you substituted.

The oatmeal cake has no sugar and sounds yummy. Also all that oatmeal is good for your cholesterol so another good reason to try this one.

And no cake is complete without frosting. I will share this brown sugar frosting recipe:

Originally published at on April 21, 2020.




writer, reader, introvert, feminist. has lots to say, some of it interesting. will smile for kittens. will not smile for you. she/her.