Real Life

My shocking secret ingredient that will make your cake taste better!

Robyn Gartrell, 71, Baldivis, WA, shares an unlikely baking hack that transformed her famous fruit loaf!
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Pulling ingredients out of the fridge for a walnut and fruit loaf, I paused.

“We’ve got no milk,” I sighed.

It was 1975 and as a farmer’s wife, it was my job to make sure the workmen had a tasty treat for afternoon tea.

Living in the country town of Beverley, two hours inland from Perth, simply popping to the shops wasn’t an option. 

I’m a passionate baker, and I love whipping up tasty treats.

Growing up, my family lived on a remote farm, too, so improvising while making a recipe was second nature.

Scanning the pantry for a milk supplement, I stumbled across a tin of condensed tomato soup.

This’ll do, I thought, pouring it in and hoping for the best.

An hour later, I pulled the loaf out of the oven and was pleased to see it looked okay, but the proof would be in the pudding.

Serving it up, I waited with baited breath as the workmen took their first bites.

“This is delicious,” they finally said, flooding me with relief.

My “secret” ingredient made my fruit cake recipe an absolute hit.!

“What’s in it?” one asked me.

“Tomato soup,” I replied.

The surprised look on their faces made me chuckle.

“Incredible,” they beamed.

It went down so well, I started baking the cake a few times a year.

It was a firm favourite among my three kids, Angie, 47, Cathryn, 45, and Steven, 41, and still is now.

Then recently, after years of living on my own I moved, with my Maltese-Shitzu, Chelsea, to the Serenitas’ Tuart Lakes over-50s lifestyle village in Baldivis, south of Perth.

Seeing my cake recipe in print was a real treat.

There’s a wonderful community with many morning teas and sporting events.

I’ve baked all sorts of cakes for morning tea, including my tomato soup cake.

Then one day a staff member at the community asked if I was interested in submitting a recipe to the annual Mother’s Day Sweet Moments Cookbook.

Each year, it’s gifted to all of the residents in the community.

“Of course,” I beamed, knowing exactly which recipe to submit.

This May, seeing my Mystery cake recipe in print was a real treat.

And the residents loved it!

I hope by sharing my recipe, I can inspire others to get creative in the kitchen – you may just create a masterpiece! 

Robyn’s Mystery Cake recipe

PREP TIME: 20 mins COOK TIME: 45 mins

2 cups self-raising flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

60g butter, softened

1/2 cup caster sugar

320g can condensed tomato soup*

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup raisins or sultanas


1 Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

2 Sift the self-raising flour and add salt, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.

3 In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.

4 Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with the condensed tomato soup, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the chopped walnuts and raisins or sultanas.

5 Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

6 Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely.

7 Serve the loaf with butter or a dollop of double cream. *Note: if you can’t find a 320g tin soup, use a 420g tin and serve remaining soup mixed with a little boiled water in mugs alongside the loaf.

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