As we begin a new month, I was a little perplexed with the cover of the November 1926 edition of The Farmer’s Wife magazine (see image above). It is obviously an illustration of a child’s Halloween party, but why was it used in November. After about a week’s worth of pondering, it occurred to me that All Hallows Eve (aka Halloween) is celebrated October 31st, but All Hallows Day, which is mostly forgotten in America, falls on November 1st. Similar perhaps to the reveling of New Year’s Eve compared to more sedate New Year’s Day celebrations.
This observation helped make me a little more comfortable with my (ahem) late Halloween post. Today I’m featuring an unlikely Halloween dessert found in the October 1926 issue of The Farmer’s Wife – Upside Down Cake. The article titled “Halloween Yum-Yums” reminds readers that “Everybody likes to have fun and frolic on Halloween, then sometime during the evening everyone’s thoughts turn to food.” Several menu suggestions are listed followed by recipes for the desserts. For some reason, the Upside-Down Cake caught my fancy. Never having made or even tasted one, I decided to give it a try. But before we jump into the recipe let’s review a little of the history of pineapple and upside-down cakes.
In the early twentieth century, canned pineapple was a luxury affordable only by the well-to-do. Before mechanization, processing the pineapples from farm to cans all had to be done by hand. The price for decent fresh pineapple was exorbitant when it was available as shipping fruit long distances was difficult before refrigeration technology. By the mid-1920s the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, owned by James Dole, had developed a way to efficiently peel, slice, pack and seal fresh pineapple in shelf-stable cans to be shipped to the mainland.
As a way of promoting their now readily available and affordable product, the company held a recipe contest in 1925 featuring canned pineapple. A whopping 60,000 recipes were submitted with 2,500 being for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Interestingly, it wasn’t the upside-down cake that was new, it was the availability of pineapple. Skillet cakes, as they were called, had been around for hundreds of years. Layering bits of seasonal or dried fruit and nuts on the bottom of a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, then covering the fruit with cake batter, and baking in a fire or oven resulted in a relatively easy and satisfying dessert whether turned upside-down or not.
Now back to the Halloween Yum-Yums. Below is the recipe for Upside Down Cake as it was published in The Farmer’s Wife magazine in 1926:
Upside Down Cake
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 3 eggs (beaten separately)
- ½ tsp lemon extract
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 4 Tbsp cold water
Beat yolks with sugar, add water and flavoring. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture. Beat well 5 minutes. Fold in well-beaten whites of eggs.
In an iron skillet melt four tablespoonsful butter and one cupful brown sugar. Cover bottom of skillet with slices of pineapple then pour the cake mixture over this and bake in a moderate oven for at least forty minutes. Start at 260 degrees let rise to 300 degrees.
*Other fruit can be used instead of pineapple.
One of the first things I noticed about this recipe was the date of publication. It was obviously an early version of Pineapple Upside Down Cake. The next thing I noticed was that the cake batter contains no fat and the eggs are to be separated with the whites well beaten. This told me that the cake is a “sponge”, a more delicate cake than a “butter” cake. I followed the recipe as written except for leaving out the lemon extract and increasing the vanilla extract to one teaspoon. I also placed maraschino cherries inside the pineapple rings before pouring over the batter. I even went through the process of slowly raising the oven temperature from 260 degrees to 300 degrees in five-minute increments which was totally unnecessary according to other recipes from the same time period. With such a slow oven it took over fifty minutes to completely bake.
In the end, the cake turned out beautifully and the flavor was excellent albeit quite sweet. I would definitely make another Upside-Down Cake, not with this recipe, but one with a sturdier butter cake recipe.
I thought the notation at the end of the recipe “Other fruit can be used instead of pineapple” was very telling. That statement points directly back to earlier skillet cakes or upside-down cakes.
I am presently compiling a sampler of other early twentieth-century Upside Down Cake recipes that I discovered while researching this article. That post will be coming soon. I am also gathering November grocery ads from the 1920s so we can compare prices between then and now. Meanwhile, Happy November!