[Historical Food Fortnightly is a year-long challenge series for those interested in historical foodways, or the study of how food, culture, and traditions have intersected throughout human history. Every fortnight a new themed challenge will be featured. As a participant, I take each challenge, select a relevant recipe, and prepare a historic dish. Please follow along, or join in yourself!]
For this HFF challenge, I decided to go retro with a pineapple upside-down cake.
Let’s talk about pineapples.
I’m going to focus on Hawaiian pineapples, since this recipe comes from a Dole cookbook. No one really knows when exactly the first pineapples were introduced to Hawaii, however, they were first recorded in 1813. Outside of Hawaii, early on, and before canning, pineapple was a mark of well-to-do tables. With it’s unusual appearance and the fact that it was not easily grown in the continental states, pineapple was an exotic luxury for those who could afford it. In fact, early colonials were so entranced by pineapple that it was featured in art, design, ice and jelly molds, and even architecture!
Canning of pineapple began in Baltimore in the mid-1860s, but this fruit was imported from the Caribbean, not Hawaii. Pineapple canning in Hawaii first began with the quickly defunct Kona Fruit Preserving Co. in 1882, and it was not until 1901 that James D. Dole founded Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Dole’s company flourished, and as a result Dole’s can credited as a major contribution to the rapid growth of the canned pineapple industry.
By the 1920s, canned pineapple was readily available and by 1930 Hawaii was leading the world in the production of canned pineapple. By 1933 there was also a rapid growth in sales of canned pineapple juice, an important by-product which increased industry profits after the Great Depression. However, by the end of World War II, the industry had changed. New competitors emerged and cheap foreign canneries eventually replaced all the canneries on Hawaii. Today, only fresh pineapples are grown in Hawaii, and mostly for local consumption. Nevertheless, Hawaii’s pineapple legacy is so strong that even today dishes made with pineapple are often called “Hawaiian style”.
Upside-down cakes likely grew out of old American methods of cooking. “Skillet cakes” were traditionally cooked in a cast iron pan, on top of the stove. With fruit and a sugar put in the pan first, when inverted onto a plate the cake would appear already decorated. It’s quite probable that the classic pineapple upside-down cake has it’s origins in these recipes.
In 1925, Dole ran a contest calling for canned pineapple recipes. In the end, one recipe for pineapple upside down cake was published in the compiled cookbook, however, Dole apparently received 2,500 recipes for the cake! Clearly by 1925 pineapple upside-down cake was widely known. Although pineapple upside-down cake enjoyed a lot of popularity, today it is often seen as “retro” and a nostalgic symbol of the mid-century, especially when topped with vibrant red maraschino cherries!
Today’s recipe comes from a 1935 cookbook released as part of a Dole advertising scheme.
6. Juicy Fruits (March 11 – March 24) It’s fruits! Do something with fruits. It doesn’t get more simple than that. Bonus points for use of heritage crops and ingredients!
Amusingly, when Mr. Man saw me buying canned pineapple, he became very alarmed and said to me, “You better not be making one of those cakes.” He complained that upside-down cakes are always soggy and gross because of the fruit. Clearly this retro classic isn’t a welcome throwback for all of us.
In the end, the cake itself was okay. It fell quite a bit after I took it out of the oven. The “caramel” topping was basically goop. And with 1/2 cup of sugar, it was VERY sweet. The pineapple was the best part, as it cut the sugary sweetness and added flavor, which was otherwise lacking.
Mr. Man and I both rated this cake “just okay”. It’s definitely edible and not awful, but the mushiness and over sweetness of the topping really didn’t do this cake any favours.
- I can’t get canned Dole fruits, so I used another brand. I did use Dole pineapple juice.
- I didn’t put 3 tablespoons of butter on the bottom, but I did liberally grease the pan.
- I baked the cake in an oven-safe frying pan.
PINEAPPLE CARAMEL UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (1935)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup DOLE Hawaiian Pineapple Juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter
4 slices canned DOLE Canned Pineapple
1/2 cup brown sugar
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a deep cake pan or a cast iron frying pan.
- In a bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt together twice.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until light.
- Add the pineapple juice and vanilla to the eggs.
- Gradually fold in the flour mixture.
- Melt the butter and put it in the prepared pan. Add the pineapple slices and brown sugar. Pour in the cake batter.
- Bake for about 1 hour. When done, turn out upside down onto a serving plate. Serve hot or cold.
Adapted from: Morning, Noon, and Night (1935)