Unlike some of the recipes I write histories about, this is a dessert that my mother did make quite a bit in mine and my siblings early childhood. That really is not surprising as my mother grew up in the sixties and seventies so this would have been a very familiar and easy recipe to pull together for young children. This is one of my favorites as I completely love pineapple and paring it with cake makes it pretty awesome in my book.
Who and where was Pineapple Upside Down Cake created?
There is no exact date when this cake was created but most signs point to the 1920s. The two earliest printings of this recipe found were in a 1924 Seattle charity cookbook under the name Pineapple Glacé and a 1925 women’s magazine in an full page ad for Gold Medal flour.
What ingredients are in Pineapple Upside Down Cake?
This simple cake consists of cake batter poured over pineapple, brown sugar and butter usually in a skillet. Sometimes nuts and maraschino cherries are added. It is then bake and flipped out onto a platter so the bottom becomes the top. Hence the name “upside down”. Though pineapple is how the cake is mainly known and will be the recipe included later in this post, you can use any fruit. That includes apples, plums, peaches or pears.
When was Pineapple Upside Down Cake popular?
Many of us probably go right to the mid century when thinking of the heyday of this cake and you would completely not be wrong. This was quite a popular cake in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Also by this point in time and even now, it is a dessert that is considered homey and comforting. In the 1920s though, this cake was perceived much differently. Pineapple was a very trendy ingredient (think avocados now) in the 20s and therefore this cake was considered elegant. They wouldn’t serve it as a simple dessert to end a meal but instead save for it for glamorous company.
By the 1930s the cake was consider less fancy but was in no way less popular. In a 1934 article, it was declared that “no women can truly call herself a finished amateur baker until she has at some time in her career baked an upside-down cake”. In the 1930s, there were many recipes that made the cake with other fruit such as in a 1932 article. In it, the writer says that other fruit upside down cakes were popular such as pineapple, peach and apricot so the readers might as well try a prune upside down cake. Also in the 1930s, Omega flour ran an ad that gave away an upside down cake pan to anyone who purchased a 10 pound sack of flour.
Of course as explained above this cake is probably most known for its mid century ties for most people. Cecily Brownstone, a food columnist in the mid century, wrote about upside down cakes at least twice. In one she said, “Pineapple upside down cake, that all American dessert, is delightfully adaptable.” She went on to called them “always extremely popular”. In the other article she is quoted saying, “Typically American are upside down cakes. Our ingenious cooks make them many ways varying both their fruit topping and cake base”.
Why should I make Pineapple Upside Down Cake?
My favorite description of this cake comes from an article in The Afro-American in 1955. The author Betty Cook describes the cake perfectly, “It’s gorgeous! With its glistening top of lightly browned pineapple wedges…rich brown sugar…you know it’s going to be delicious”. I actually could not say it better myself. If you don’t like or are allergic to pineapple switch out the fruit.
How do you make Pineapple Upside Down Cake?
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
A very retro and easy pineapple upside down cake!
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/3 cup pineapple liquid from the pineapple slices
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
For the Pineapple Top/Bottom:
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 can of pineapple slices, juices reserved for above cake
- Maraschino cherries
- Preheat oven to 350.
- For the cake batter: In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
- Mix in the butter, milk, pineapple juice and vanilla with a hand beater for a couple of minutes.
- Add the egg and mix for a couple more minutes. Set aside.
- For the pineapple topping: Place your 10 inch heavy skillet over low heat and melt the butter. Then stir in the brown sugar. Arrange the pineapple slices (I used seven) and the maraschino cherries ( I used nine) in the pan. If using a cake pan, melt the butter and mix with the brown sugar in the pan. Then arrange the the pineapple slices.
- Carefully top with the cake batter spreading it smooth with a spatula.
- Bake for 40 minutes.
- Let the cake for a couple of minutes before carefully
- You can use a yellow cake mix instead if that is more your thing. Just use 9×13 inch pan or two 9 inch round pan and double the the amount of butter and brown sugar for the bottom of the pan before arranging the pineapple and cherries. Then just pour the prepared cake mix over the the fruit and bake at 350 until done. Turn out onto a large rectangle platter and serve.
- A lot of mid century recipes also added pecans or walnuts when they where arranging the pineapple and cherries.
Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1997.
Brownstone, Cecily. “Pan of Any Size Can Be Used For Pineapple Upside Down Cake.” Lewiston Morning Tribune. October 22, 1964.
Brownstone, Cecily. “This Hearty Upside Down Cake Just Right For Family Desserts.” Lewiston Morning Tribune. March 24, 1966.
Cook, Betty. “Pineapple Cake Feature ‘Take It Easy’ Baking.” The Afro-American. July 30, 1955.
Lovegren, Sylvia. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. New York: Macmillian General Reference, 1995.
Mariani, John F. The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.
“New Prune Cake That Fills Bill.” The Evening Independent. November 19, 1932.
Omega Flour Ad. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. December 13, 1934.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake Ad. Life Magazine. February 14, 1955.
“Swan’s Down ‘Super-Goober’ Cake Mix Ad”. Life Magazine. August 25, 1952.
“Test of Cake Making is in Upside Down Variety”. San Jose News. April 8, 1934.
Westmoreland, Susan. Good Housekeeping Great American Classics Cookbook. New York: Hearst Books, 2004.