The History of Jell-O Poke Cake

The next installment in Bonnie’s trip into 1980’s food fads is the Jello Poke Cake! I have been racking my brain trying to remember if I have ever had Poke Cake before. I have no idea how I avoided Poke Cakes until now as I was a kiddo in the eighties and nineties.

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What ingredients are in Jello Poke Cake?
Jello Poke Cake is simply a cake, whether homemade or box, that has been “poked” all over the top with a fork, and then gelatin is poured over the whole thing. It is then put in the fridge to set for a few hours or overnight. The cake is then simply frosted with whipped cream or whipped topping.

Who and where was Jello Poke Cake created?
If someone asked me before writing this post when was Jello Poke Cake created, I would have completely guessed the mid-century. A quick and easy cake that could be made with a box cake mix, gelatin, and frosted with whipped cream that looked pretty when sliced seemed right up their alley. So I will admit I was surprised to find out that this was a product of the 1980s.

It was supposedly in a 1981 issue of Bon Appetit where Jello first ran an ad that featured a cake called Moist and Fruity Rainbow Cake. The recipe was for a two-layer cake that had been poked with a fork and Jello poured over. The whole thing was then frosted with Cool Whip whipped topping. There is also a Christmas version that was printed a year later that had one layer that had red gelatin while the other layer had green to make a very festive Poke Cake. Eventually, the recipe just became known as Poke Cakes.

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When was Jello Poke Cake popular?
This cake was super popular in the 1980s. The consensus on the cake was that it was an easy dessert that can be made ahead of time. It didn’t hurt that it used just three products (cake mix, gelatin, and whipped topping) that were easy to get at any grocery store. A 1982 article explained the reason for its popularity as it is a “concept so basic that it belies the glorious burst of colors and flavors that simply beg for an occasion”.

Though it got its start in the 1980s it is still a cake that is made today. Jean Anderson in her cookbook The American Century Cookbook called Poke Cake a “beloved classic in the heartland.” While another joked that “more than 20 years later, we have more poke cake recipes than we know what to do with.” Blogger Jamie Sherman in her book The Poke Cake Cookbook talks about how the most popular recipes on her blog Love Bakes Good Cake are for Poke Cakes. She goes on to say that she is “not sure if it’s the novelty of a ‘poke cake’ or the fact that they are so easy to make and the flavor combinations are almost endless” for the popularity.

Why should I make Jello Poke Cake?
It is simple and easy to make. Also, it is another cost-effective dessert that easily could feed a small party. I will admit that there is something really fun about cutting a slice a seeing the colorful gelating seeping through.

How do you make Jello Poke Cake?
Honestly take this recipe that I am sharing as one simple variation and have fun trying other flavors. The cake can be any flavor of cake mix or basic homemade. There are soooooo many flavors of gelatin. Don’t like Jello? Use pudding or create a homemade syrup before frosting with the whipped cream or whipped topping.

Jello Poke Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The popular 1980s Poke Cake!

Ingredients

  • 1 3oz package of strawberry gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 cake that has been baked in a 13 x 9 pan, either made with a box mix or homemade
  • 8 oz tub of whipped topping, thawed, or 1 cup of heavy whipping cream that has been whipped
  • Optional: fresh strawberries for garnish.

Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water. Then stir in cold water.
  2. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the 13 x 9 cake.
  3. Pour gelatin mixture over the cake.
  4. Chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
  5. Frost with whipped topping or whipped cream and top with fresh strawberries, if using.

NOTES:

  • For added flavor, you can mix in a cup or two of frozen strawberries that have been thawed and chopped into the gelatin mixture. When I do this, I usually sub 1/2 cup of the strawberry juice for the thawed strawberries for the cold water.

sources:

Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook. United States: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997.
Dean, Dorothy. “Ready-Mix Yields Surprises”. The Spokesman-Review. November 14, 1963.
“Cakes! Home-baked Variations Are Glorious”. The Evening Independent. April 14, 1982.
Fertig, Judith M.. All-American Desserts. N.p.: ReadHowYouWant.com, Limited, 2010.
“For Summer Barbecue Ginger Chicken Good Choice”. The Press-Courier. July 16, 1981.
Merriman, Woodene. “Herman and the other Fantastic Fads of Yesteryear”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 3, 1991.
“Orange Honey Bread Will Please Your Club”. The Spokesman-Review. February 16, 1968.
“Poke Cake Goes Coconutty.” The Bryan Times. January 25, 1983.
Sherman, Jamie. The Poke Cake Cookbook: 75 Delicious Cake and Filling Combinations. United States: Page Street Publishing, 2017.
Steiner, Mickey. “Asparagus Great for Pickling.” Ellensburg Daily Record. March 30, 2005.
Stern, Jane., Stern, Michael. Square Meals: America’s Favorite Comfort Food Cookbook. United States: Lebhar-Friedman Books, 2000.
“Tables Bloom with Refreshing Desserts”. Elizabethton Star. April 25, 2004.

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5 thoughts on “The History of Jell-O Poke Cake

  1. Norella Beane says:

    The Dreamwhip Poke Cake originated in the 1960’s. It can out 3 different flavors. Strawberry, Lemon, and plain. I have been making it since 1968 from a recipe on the Strawberry Dreamwhip box. Today I mix Strawberry or Cherry Jello with Cool Whip as the first layer on the cake with Jello poured into the holes. Third layer is cool whip.

    Liked by 1 person

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