Boomers Loved Pineapple Upside Down Cake

One of the things that made the immediate weekend after Thanksgiving festive and wonderful were the leftovers. It made Mister Boomer think of the days following the holiday as an extension of the big meal. There were always plenty of leftovers, too. After growing up during the Great Depression, which was followed by years of war rationing, the parents of boomers were in the mood to overindulge with an abundance of food for which they were immensely grateful. Of course, part of that overindulgence were the desserts, and there were always plenty of leftovers of that, too.

Mister Boomer’s mom always made two pies: a pumpkin pie made from the family’s Halloween jack-o-lantern that she had cut, cooked, mashed and frozen weeks before for that purpose, and a cream pie, usually banana cream. Yet what became the holiday tradition for Mister Boomer was the cake his mother made; a pineapple upside down cake. Occasionally, she made it for Christmas, too, but Mister B always associated it with Thanksgiving. Pineapple upside down cake happened to have its peak of popularity during the boomer years.

Practically every culture — especially in England and across Europe — baked some form of upside down cake, where fruit and sugar were placed in an iron skillet, then topped with a dough or cake batter. When fully baked, the pan was inverted to showcase the fruit and sweet caramel drippings on the top. Many families had traditional recipes along these lines, but the pineapple version first appeared in the U.S. in the 1920s. It was around the earlier 1900s that canned goods became popular, and some time in the late 1910s, canned pineapple made its debut.

The Chicago Evening American published a book around 1923 called, A Book of Practical Recipes, that contained a recipe for pineapple upside down cake. The cake really gained in popularity when, in 1925, The Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later to become Dole Pineapple), sponsored a pineapple recipe contest. Of the more than 60,000 entrees submitted from coast to coast, 2,500 of them were variations on pineapple upside down cake. Clearly, upside down cakes were already a known commodity and the pineapple version was a popular choice. By the 1930s, it was a comfort food that worked well for church socials as well as holiday occasions. Red and green cherries were often added for a Christmas touch.

As the Boomer Generation gained steam, boomers’ moms adapted recipes for modern ovens with the help of recipes that were printed on practically every type of product, from packages of flour to cans of soup, bags of chocolate chips to jars of maraschino cherries. A good portion of the recipes made by Mister B’s mom came from these packages, including her pineapple upside down cake. She found it on a box of cake mix, which helped make the cake one of the most popular of the 1950s and ’60s. His mom’s version had maraschino cherries in the middle of the pineapple rings, and walnut halves wedged in the spaces between the rings. When the brown sugar melted while the cake was baking, the fruit and nuts were candied in caramel. Her cake batter was also sweetened with the syrup from the can. As a boomer, sugar was a friend and not a foe, especially on holidays. The cake got better over the Thanksgiving weekend. It became Mister B’s favorite, but not so much for his siblings. Mister B enjoyed a slice each day with his father and mother until it was gone. Sometimes he would have a slice for breakfast.

By the 1970s, tastes were changing and pineapple upside down cake fell out of fashion. You’ll still see recipes for it today, but it appears to be more of a nostalgic bake item these days, as opposed to a family tradition. Mister B has become a bit of a baker in his later years, and thinks that maybe one day he’ll try to replicate one of those pineapple upside cakes he remembers from his youth. Something tells him he’ll have to hold back on the level of sugar, though.

Did your mom make pineapple upside down cake, boomers?

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