May 5, 2014

The Mysteries of Pineapple Upside Down Cake and Recipe

I made a million Pineapple Upside Down Cakes at work today. Okay, maybe it wasn't a million, but it certainly felt like a million. During baking I realized that I really had very little experience with the cake. I don't think I ever had it before and I hadn't ever seen anyone make it.

I asked one of the other girls in the bakery how old they thought the recipe was.

"It's old, old because I mother made it since before i can remember and my grandma made it too."

It was really a curious cake as the concept of baking something and flipping it out once it was finished is a very old concept, as is putting fruit in such confectioneries. Another girl mentioned that she would guess it originated around WWII because of the canned goods. I agreed and thought it might even be earlier than that. Probably around WWI as I had read a lot of recipes that included canned pineapple around that time period.  After a lot of conjecture we (read: my coworker) decided that I should "Go home and google it. You're giving me a headache. You ask too many questions."

So I asked her what they did before google, but I digress.

It turns out that there are many recipes for cakes baked and flipped upside down, as you would do with any cake or pudding baked in a mold. Elizabeth Smith Miller includes a recipe for a similarly baked "Orange Cake" with fruit icing in her 1875 book, In the Kitchen. 

By the 1890s, there were many recipes for apple cakes that were served flipped upside down but many of these had the fruit toppings added after the cake had been flipped out of the pan, and therefore not exactly the same as a modern upside down cake.

Upside down cakes in their modern form seem to have become very popular in the 1920s. In 1925, The Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole) held a recipe contest to help popularize their pineapple. 2,500 people entered recipes for pineapple upside down cakes. This indicates that it was already a popular dish or at least similar enough to dishes already made that numerous cooks made the connection. So, Pineapple Upside Down Cake became immensely popular all at once and historians have yet to find the missing link.

Here's a post WWII recipe for Pinapple Upside Down Cake which is almost identical to the recipe we were using. 

It's surprisingly tasty for being so simple. I am thinking of trying to make one that has pineapple and walnut flavored cake with  the pineapple and cherries on top. 


Miller, Elizabeth Smith. In the kitchen ... Boston: Lee and Shepard;, 1875.

Olver, Lynn. "The Food Timeline: cake history notes." The Food Timeline: cake history notes. (accessed May 5, 2014).

Schlosser, Georgia. Recipes for quantity service. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1953.


  1. That upside down cake looks positively delicious. As pineapple is my favorite type of fruit, it makes the cake even more appealing to me!

    I am, however, somewhat saddened at hearing that a coworker told you to "Go home and google it" because you asked lots of questions. All because the Internet and search engines exist doesn't mean we should stop asking other people for advice and bouncing ideas off one another. I like your response.

    1. I get so bored at work. :) I've been really curious since I was little and my grandma used to say the same thing. "Stop asking so many questions, you're giving me a headache." :P

  2. Hmm. I don't know if I've ever had Pineapple Upside Down Cake. I didn't used to like pineapples when I was younger, but I love them now. It sounds like a good recipe to try out.

    I loathe when people are just too lazy to learn. I love knowledge, and I like to be around knowledgeable people. Honestly, when someone would rather be ignorant it disgusts me. I'm so glad you're curious enough to research things you don't know, and that you want to learn. I love it about you.

    That story reminds me of the saying I've seen floating around the internet: "In the Age of Information, ignorance is a choice."

    Anyway, I think it's pretty cool that your guess of WWI was so close. After all, popularity in the '20s isn't long after.

  3. I've just referred to you as the blogger who got me thinking about historical food, and lo and behold, you've just done another one.
    Do you know about this?

    1. P.S: My captcha at the previous comment was "preservation". Very on topic.

    2. I knew about the sewing one but hadn't seen this one. Thanks!

  4. Nan used to make pineapple upside down cakes all the time! I love that cake and I miss having it. :( My guess is it because popular around WWII.


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