One of my favorite things about this blog is coming across recipes that we today are not aware of how popular they were in a certain time period. It happened with the Lucky Seven Sandwich and now with the Lemon Jell-O Cake. I first saw the recipe in a few of the recipe boxes in my collection. For those who don’t know, I have a small collection of vintage metal recipe boxes. I was also lucky enough to find most of them chock full of recipe cards. I really did not take notice at that point until I was trying to research the origins of the Jell-O Poke Cake. For some reason this Lemon Jell-O Cake kept appearing in my searches. At first, I thought it was a poke cake under a different name but soon realized that it was a whole different cake. So now that I have caught you all up on why I am writing this post. Let us get on with talking about the “Famous” Lemon Jell-O Cake.
What exactly is a Lemon Jell-O Cake? It is a boxed cake mix, usually white or yellow, with a box of lemon gelatin added to the batter. It is baked in a 13 x 9-inch pan but some recipes do opt for a Bundt pan. Usually, it is topped with a lemon glaze. If it was baked in a 13 x 9 pan, then sometimes the cake is poked before being topped with the glaze. This is probably why it kept popping up in my poke cake research. The recipe can be found under many names including “Famous” Lemon Jell-O Cake, Jell-O Cake, Lemon Pound Cake, and Lemon Loaf.
The popularity of this cake seemed to be in the early to mid-1960s with the year 1963 being the peak. I could not find the exact origin of the recipe. Mid-century food columnist Dorothy Dean mentions hearing about the recipe in 1960 or 1961. The first mention I could personally find is in what I do believe is a Texas newspaper called The Bonham Daily Favorite. In a 1960 issue is posted a recipe for a Lemon Loaf Cake but it does not include a glaze.
Like many recipes, the Lemon Jell-O Cake traveled through word of mouth. In a 1965 Mary Moore food column, a reader wrote jokingly that this cake was making the rounds in her neighborhood. Earlier in a 1961 article, the dessert was called a “slice of the most delicious cake”. The author mentions she had it at a party when it was brought by a guest who in turn had got it from a friend. A 1963 article explains why the Lemon Jell-O cake is popular when she called the cake a “versatile recipe to have on hand”. Another newspaper from the same year agreed when calling the cake quick and simple to make. It was promised in a 1964 article that if you make this cake, you were guaranteed an easy and moist outcome.
Dorothy Dean, who probably wrote about this cake the most, joked that not a day goes by when a reader does not ask for the recipe in a 1963 article. In that same column, she says, “at the moment, tops on the list of mix-made creations is ‘the packaged cake’ you can make with lemon Jell-O.” In 1964 Dean included the popular Lemon Cake in a leaflet called “Cake Talk” that readers could write into the paper and obtain a copy for a small fee. Later in 1967, a reader wrote to Dean asking for the columnist to print the recipe again as she had lost her copy. Dean remarked that this was still a very popular recipe. It also seems to be Dorothy Dean who started calling this cake the “Famous” Lemon Jell-O Cake.
Other vintage cakes that use a box cake mix:
Harvey Wallbanger Cake
Better Than Cake
Tomato Soup Cake
Lemon Jell-O Cake
An easy lemon cake from the 1960s.
- 1 box of white or yellow cake mix
- 1 3oz package of yellow gelatin
- 1 cup of water
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
- 2 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- Optional: zest of one lemon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and well grease a 13×9 pan.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cake mix, gelatin, water, eggs and oil until well incorporated. Pour into the greased pan.
- Bake for 40 minutes.
- After taking the cake out, mix together the confectioners sugar, lemon zest (if using) and add lemon juice, starting with two tablespoons, until you get a thick but spreadable glaze. Keep in mind that the heat of the warm cake will help with the spreading of the glaze.
- Place the glaze on the warm cake and spread until it is in an even layer. Serve either warm or let cool.
Buckert, Emily. “Favorite Among Recipes”. The Victoria Advocate. March 17, 1963.
Dean, Dorothy. “Broken Thermometer in Roast No Problem”. The Spokesman-Review. January 24, 1967.
Dean, Dorothy. “Prepared Cake Mixes Boon to Homemakers”. The Spokesman-Review. May 26, 1964.
Dean, Dorothy. “Ready-Mix Yields Surprises”. The Spbokesman-Review. November 14, 1963.
“Delicious Cakes in Leaflet Offer”. The Spokesman-Review. September 24, 1964.
“Favorite Recipe of the Week”. Kingsport Post. March 2, 1965.
Forgy, Velma Rae. “Petticoat Patter”. The Bonham Daily Favorite. July 17, 1960.
Leber, Michelle. “Jell-O Cake and Nut Bread Favorites of Home Ec Major”. The Press-Courier. January 2, 1963.
Moore, Mary. “Perfect Fall Apple Pie for Thanksgiving Menu”. The Leader-Post. October 8, 1965.
Rollins, Emma E. “Journal Kitchen”. The Standstead Journal. January 21, 1965.
Sumner, Laird. “Chatting With You”. Ocala Star-Banner. January 8, 1961.
“Tempting Ways to Serve Wholesome Foods”. Kentucky Era. February 15, 1964.
“Woman’s Club News”. Mt. Adams Sun. May 23, 1968.
“Your Recipe Neighbor Frances”. Gadsden Times. August 24, 1961.
9 thoughts on “The “Famous” Lemon Jell-O Cake”
I enjoyed reading this post. I was just learning to bake in 1960. There weren’t all the flavors of box cakes then that there is today. Our small local grocery store only carried chocolate, white, yellow and marble. You can imagine how much fun it was to use a box of Jell-O to flavor a cake. You could make cherry, orange, peach, pineapple, strawberry as well as lemon. I don’t remember a glaze but just made standard vanilla frosting.
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That is so neat. I bet it was fun to try all the different flavor combinations!
The problem with any recipe calling for a “box” of cake mix is that the contents of “the boxes” have gotten significantly smaller. My wife’s That Cake turns out great. When her friends make it, it is small. Reason is her recipe is exact, suggests an 18 1/2 ounces yellow box cake mix. Todays boxes are much less at 12 1/2 ounces.
I used the Duncan Hines brand to test this recipe which weighs 15,25 ounces as are the other major brands that are available at my local grocery store. Hope that helps.
Enjoyed reading about this lemon cake recipe but I have a lemon cake recipe that I believe predates the ones you have been writing about. I got it from my step dad’s mother. She had been making it since the 1940s. I enjoy vintage recipes. And the finding the origins of foods recipes and food.
It is different from all the cakes I have seen and the ones you have written about. It calls for 2 Jiffy cake mixes. It also calls for Realemon. both products started in the 1930s so the 40s would seem to be about right.
I also seem to be the only person to have this specific recipe. I have looked for the recipe, just out of curiosity, and not found it. Nor have I ever seen anyone take this cake to any get togethers.
So I am thinking 1940s on Jello lemon cake.
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Thank you for that story! I love hearing about others’ favorite recipes. I don’t doubt that this cake was possibly around before the 1960s or inspired by an earlier cake. I just couldn’t find any real sources talking about it before then. That is why I didn’t make it an official “History of…” post and went at it more as a point in time when this particular lemon jello cake recipe was quite popular. Though you gave me some good clues and I will go back to my research to see what I can dig up.