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A Pineapple and a Candied Cherry

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gallery_29805_1195_19641.jpgby David Ross Recently, I had dinner with a friend at a funky Seattle café that follows today’s popular farm-to-table movement, sourcing only local, seasonal ingredients from small farmers who ply their trade organically, with the Chef crafting those products into simple, comfort-food style menus that change weekly. The storefront restaurant was housed in a building that had been given new life in one of Seattle’s resurgent urban neighborhoods. From the outside, it looked like a 1930’s travel postcard hand-painted in pastel colors. The staff numbered two -- the chef and a waitress -- and the tiny little dining area had no more than five tables. The focal point of the room was a 1960’s-era wood stereo cabinet boasting a small collection of albums from the days when spinning vinyl LP’s were how we listened to music. Tony Bennett’s All-Time Greatest Hits (1972) spun during dinner. (At the time, we were the only customers in the place, so we weren’t worried about offending other patrons with a scratchy rendition of “Love Look Away.”) The setting was perfect for ending dinner on a sweet note with a “vintage” dessert appropriate to the retro stereo, the décor of the room, and the vibe of the neighborhood. We settled on the “Hazelnut Bundt Cake” served with fresh “Honey Ice Cream,” a confection that would have been comfortable reposing on a luncheonette counter in the mid-60’s, (although back then we would have called it a “Filbert Bundt Cake”). What came to the table was a meek, withered slab of cake; the only redeeming part of the presentation was a cool scoop of golden honey ice cream. A heavy hand with the hazelnuts overpowered the delicate balance of the the cake, rendering it dry and gummy. A thin veil of powdered-sugar glaze did nothing to rescue it from the dry depths of despair. We turned to the ice cream, hoping it would earn the dish a passing grade, but something had gone terribly wrong in the process of crafting the ice cream. Little ice crystals had formed throughout the custard. Instead of smooth, silky, sweetness, our plea was rebuffed with a mouth of cold sand. The Chef had made some glaring errors in technique and the results were embarrassing. The urge to use the season’s first fresh hazelnuts in strict accordance with the restaurant’s mission of “farm-to-table” had resulted in a cake so disappointing that it wouldn’t even merit the back table at your local elementary school cakewalk. No doubt, responsibly raised bees and an organic hazelnut orchard are beautiful things to behold. But sitting in that little café in a building erected decades ago, listening to the bluesy sounds of Tony Bennett, I wasn’t thinking so much about today’s “farm-to-table” culture as much as I was imagining a slice of one of America’s favorite cakes and what a delightful ending to this meal, in this quaint, cozy little setting, it would have been. Unfortunately, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake wasn’t on the menu.

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gallery_29805_1195_6122.jpgPineapple Upside-Down Cake once shared Formica-lined diner counters with other luminaries of the cake world like the “Burnt-Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting,” the “Strawberry Bavarian Icebox Cake,” and the often-praised “7-Up Angel Food Cake with Pink Lady Whipped Cream.” It’s impossible to document the precise day that the first slice of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was served. We do know that it’s a youngster in the history of cake, with its likely roots in the roaring 20’s. It’s a quintessentially American cake -- the product of innovation by an entrepreneurial spirit with both business and agricultural interests who developed methods for growing, harvesting and canning pineapple on a commercial scale never before seen. Mr. James Drummond Dole (1877-1958) is widely known as the “Pineapple King.” Armed with an impressive educational resume from Harvard (degrees in both agriculture and business), Dole moved from his home in New England to Hawaii in 1899 and invested in a 64-acre farm on the island of Oahu. Commercial pineapple canneries of the time employed hundreds of workers to harvest fruit in the fields. Hand labor continued in the canneries where the pineapples had to be peeled and cored by hand. Dole introduced automation, changing the face of the industry. Prior to Mr. Dole’s innovations, the thought of a Midwestern family in the Midwest enjoying a fresh Hawaiian pineapple would have been absurd. But now Americans could enjoy the exotic taste of canned Hawaiian pineapple in all its sweet, tangy, tropical glory within just a few days of harvest. (In the ensuing years, Dole expanded his empire, eventually becoming the steward of more than 75% of the world’s pineapple crop.) Mr. Dole’s contributions were monumental advancements for the American food industry. The introduction of canning fresh pineapple in a sugar-water syrup gave the home cook a delicious new product at low cost that would result in the birth of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Dole was also an early adopter of the new art of advertising canned food products to America. Hand-painted billboards, colored posters in shop windows, and magazine and newspaper ads were just a few of the forms of advertising used to promote the wondrous flavors of Dole pineapple. Yet Dole needed something more -- something big -- to advertise the virtues of his canned pineapple to American home cooks. He would find that big break in a recipe contest. In 1925, Dole ran a national advertising campaign, offering up prizes of $50 for each of the 100 recipes that would be selected for the cookbook featuring dishes using his pineapple products. The contest was a rousing success, garnering upwards of 60,000 entries -- including somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 recipes for Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes. One of those found its way into Dole’s cookbook – and the overwhelming number of Upside-Down Cake entries in the contest tells one that cooks had been baking the cake at home far earlier than 1925. Prior to 1925, home cooks might have used fresh pineapple (a rarity in those days) in their cakes, or maybe they used homemade canned pineapple (also rare); most likely, Dole’s product was a convenient replacement for a variety of other fresh or preserved fruits. But it was Dole’s ad campaign that garnered national publicity for his new packaging, and formalized the name for this delicious new cake. Dole’s gift to America’s kitchens would go on to inspire thousands of new recipes using pineapple.

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gallery_29805_1195_2751.jpgWhile Mr. Dole was harvesting and canning pineapples in the Hawaiian Islands, some 2,500 miles to the North, in the small college town of Corvallis, Oregon, Ernest H. Wiegand, Professor of Horticulture at Oregon State College (today Oregon State University), was developing modern technology for brining and processing maraschino cherries on a large scale for distribution in America, obviating the need for importation of a European luxury. Into the late 1890’s, the Italian Marasca cherry was served in fancy cocktails at exclusive hotel bars, and was known primarily to upper class Americans and the royal families of Europe. Marascas were beyond the means of most Americans since they were imported; preservation in liqueur added even more to the cost. Since the turn of the century, American cherry producers had been experimenting with cost-effective methods of preserving cherries, substituting American grown Queen Anne and Royal Anne cherries for the more expensive Marascara varietals. They tinkered with different flavoring agents like almond extract as a substitution for the liqueur and began adding red dyes to give the cherries a more attractive appearance. When Prohibition came in 1920, importation of Marascas stopped, yet America had developed an appetite for little red gems in their highballs and shots of bathtub gin. Some camps will argue that Professor Wiegand was looking for ways to get rid of excess cherries that weren’t good enough for canned pie cherry production or for fresh eating cherries. Others say he was trying to develop a cherry due to the limits of Prohibition. However, the studious Professor was simply experimenting. He wasn’t trying to make political statements or setting out to make a profit. Ever the typical tinkering Oregonian when it came to agricultural improvements, Wiegand was attempting to develop a brining process that could operate on a large scale and would result in a sweet cherry with a crisp crunch and bright red appearance. Sound scientific research and development in his Corvallis campus laboratory during the 20’s led Wiegand to a modern method for processing maraschinos, a replacement for the soft fruits that were were being marketed in lieu of the Italian original. Wiegand’s cherries – with stem attached so they had the appearance of ripe red cherries just off the tree -- would change the candied cherry industry in America. Professor Wiegand’s maraschino cherry technology was introduced in 1925, the same year that Mr. Dole’s recipe contest blazed through America’s kitchens. Today the production process hasn’t changed much from the formulas Professor Wiegand developed more than 80 years ago; today, Wiegand Hall on the campus at Oregon State serves students studying food technology and horticulture.

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gallery_29805_1195_1183.jpgThe cake that won the 1925 contest was not garnished with maraschino cherries. They were most likely added to the recipe in 1926 or 1927 when the “new” style of maraschino cherries were first bottled and found their way to market shelves. Professor’s Wiegand’s cherries quickly became the signature garnish for Mr. Dole’s cake. These two unlikely partners — the businessman from Hawaii and the Professor from Corvallis — changed food technology and food production in America and, by a simple twist of fate, perfected an American classic, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. In the years since Dole’s 1925 recipe contest, cooks have concocted all manner of variations of the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, including such dreadful sounding dishes as the “Orleans Fruit Cake” -- a 1957 entrant in the 9th Grand National Pillsbury Bake-Off. The Orleans Cake is loosely based on the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake -- fruit placed in the bottom of a pan and a sponge-cake batter poured on top. But that’s the only distant relationship between the two. The Orleans cake replaces pineapple with pecans and watermelon-rind pickles. Watermelon-rind pickles, a delicious accompaniment to a tuna-salad sandwich, have no business in a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Cooks have also tampered with the proven taste foundations of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake by adapting the technique for savory dishes -- all efforts resulting in questionable results. In a recipe for “Pineapple Upside-Down Ham Loaf,” (in the 1942 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook), the cook is instructed to mix combine dry mustard, vinegar and sugar and sprinkle this mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Canned pineapple slices are placed on the dry sugar mix, and on top of that, a layer of ground cooked ham, pork shoulder, eggs, milk and cracker crumbs -- a sort of Hawaiian meat loaf if you will. This is an affront to the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. (Personally, I’ve never understood the affection for the pairing of ham and pineapple, in cakes or on pizza, and calling it “Hawaiian.”). To the uninitiated, a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake appears to be an unwieldy concoction that is difficult to re-create, but from a technical standpoint, the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is actually quite easy to make. The list of ingredients is typically no more than 10 or 12, all of which can be purchased at any supermarket. Still, the guises in which cooks cloak the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake are endless. In a rush to create the latest trendy derivative of this famous cake, we are subjected to such concoctions as the Daffodil Upside-Down Cake, the Fuzzy Navel Upside-Down Cake, (apparently a blend of peaches and liquor), Pineapple Upside-Down Mini Bundt Cakes and a regional favorite of the upper-Midwest, the Pineapple Upside-Down Wisconsin Gouda Cake. Fresh cherries -- even the original, noble Marasca -- are a poor substitute for Wiegand’s maraschinos, when used to stud the rings of pineapple in an upside-down cake. They leak juice when baked, watering down the sticky caramel syrup that binds the pineapple to the cake. Fresh cherries don’t have the snappy crunch or that sweet taste of the maraschino. No, only maraschino cherries will do for your Pineapple Upside-Down Cake -- and they must be red -- not green or one of the new-age fluorescent colors of maraschino cherries that are becoming popular in markets today. Day-glo blue cherries were definitely not a part of our food culture in 1925, nor should they be today when you make your special cake.

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A few weeks after the Hazelnut Cake disappointment, I wrote my friend to tell him I was writing about Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, wondering if he had any special memories of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake when he was growing up in 1950s Philadelphia. To my surprise, I learned that his Mother had never baked him one. “Why,” she asked, “Would I make you a cake upside-down when I can make you one right-side-up?” Ida Richman was only being practical -- why would any sane homemaker go to the trouble of baking a cake upside-down? What if upside-down cakes required special pans, ovens or mystical techniques? And I suppose we fear that which we have not baked -- and let’s not parse the argument that all cakes are baked “upside-down” and then turned out, before being slathered in frosting. We needn’t pity her son. A childhood bereft of this iconic dessert did not scar the dear boy for life. Still, I hope that the next time I have dinner with Ida’s son Alan, dessert will be a nice slice of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

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David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team. Photos by the author.

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You know, that's a very good question and I'm not really sure of the answer-who or where did the idea of putting fruit, or pineapple, on the "bottom" of the cake come from?

Initially when I was writing the piece on Pineapple Upside-Down Cake I did a bit of research into the history of fruits in cakes and found traces back to the Romans. I found that the Romans mixed seeds, nuts and dried fruits into a mash of grains, what we would term the earliest origins of the ‘fruitcake.’

By the middle ages, cakes were made with preserved fruits and sweetened with honey, but historical records show that the use of milk and butter was restricted under church regulations until the ban was lifted in 1490.

The tarte tatin wasn’t introduced to the French until 1898, so sometime after that the technique was adopted in home kitchens and brought to America.

Of course, the tarte tatin is a whole different type of upside-down dessert, owing to the juices found in fresh apples and the way the apples react to the caramelization process when they are sautéed in butter and sugar. A canned pineapple is a different product because it is packed in a sugar syrup.

Now let me give you another note of interest in terms of how some people perceive the history of the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Tonight I was at a dinner at a temple of haute French cuisine in Las Vegas. During the dessert course, (not a course where Pineapple Upside Down Cake was served), I did an informal poll of my dining companions about the origins, (within 10 years), of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake. The answers ranged from 1937 to 1965. Mr. Dole’s contest was in 1925, so I guess the person who guessed 1937 was sort of close to the 10-year range. Most of the answers were in the 1940-1960 range, suggesting most people think the Pineapple Upside Down Cake is really much younger than it actually is.

Imagine, talking about Pineapple Upside Down Cake while a French waiter is serving you “Strawberry La Fraise with Strawberry Gelee and Basil Foam.”

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  • 3 weeks later...

I wanted to share my recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. While I don't use the prize-winning recipe from Mr. Dole's canned pineapple contest, I use a "retro" recipe from a time-tested, classic cookbook-the 1968 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens "New Cookbook." The byline inside the red and white checked front cover of the cookbook reads "The New Cookbook has sold 13 1/2 million copies-America's favorite by far." Fourty-two years later no doubt millions more American home cooks have discovered the delicious results of the recipes within the metal rings and tabs of this beloved cookbook.

Section four is where the "Cakes, Frostings, and Fillings" reside in the "New Cookbook." Behind the yellow tab, residing on page 70, you will find recipes for Applesauce cake, White Cake Supreme, the regal Lady Baltimore cake and a favorite of farm families, the Buttermilk Cake. Yet the prime space on the page, the upper-left corner, is reserved for the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Recipe.

Of course, one must carry on the tradition of Mr. Dole's legacy by starting with a can of Dole pineapple slices. In terms of a cooking vessel, I use a cast iron skillet. Cast iron is perfect for any type of cake where you are making a caramel-be it a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake or an Apple Tarte Tatin-it retains heat consistently without letting the caramel burn. And, even more importantly, a well-seasoned veteran cast iron skillet is naturally "non-stick." In other words, you don't need to buy an expensive, high-tech, non-stick pan that may not endure the rigors of your kitchen. A cast iron pan is reasonably cheap, hearty, heavy and will last a lifetime.

Now I do make a few slight variations from the printed recipe. I double the amount of caramel, (the syrup on the "bottom" of the cake), yet I keep the amount of "cake" batter true to the recipe. This way I have a greater ratio of "sticky" caramel and pineapple on the "bottom" to the amount of "cake" on top. At least that's what we start with.

The Caramel, pineapple and cherries-

1 20oz. can sliced pineapple, save the juice (you will have some juice and pineapple leftover)

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

Maraschino cherries

Heat the oven to 350.

Heat a 9" cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and melt. Add the brown sugar and 1/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice. Stir until the brown sugar melts and begins to gently bubble. Cook for about 8 minutes, then add the pineapple slices, covering the bottom of the skillet in one layer. Stud the center of the rings of pineapple with Maraschino cherries. Note: this is a matter of taste, I happen to love lots of cherries, so I stud each ring of pineapple with two cherries and place cherries in the spaces around the pineapples slices. Turn off the heat and as you prepare the cake batter.

The Caramel-

The Caramel.jpg

The Cake-

Reserved canned pineapple syrup to make 1/2 cup

1/3 cup Crisco shortening

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking salt and then add to the creamed mixture. Add the reserved canned pineapple syrup. Note: If there was note enough leftover pineapple syrup from the can, add water to make 1/2 cup).

Spoon the batter over the top of the pineapple slices in the cast iron pan. Smooth the batter so that it seals over the top of the pineapple. Bake in the 350 oven for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

The Cake-

The Cake.jpg

Remove the skillet from the oven and let it cook about 8-10 minutes on a wire rack. Don't let the cake cool too much or the caramel will start to set and it won't easily release from the skillet when you turn it "upside-down."

Place another rack over the top of the "cake," then gently invert the skillet, turning the cake "upside-down." The cake should gently release onto the rack, revealing the "top" of pineapple slices, caramel and cherries.


Upside Down.jpg

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream-

The Dish.jpg

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David, at one point in your recipe you refer to the liquid from the pineapple as 'juice', and at another point as 'syrup'. At least here in Florida, we have both types. Which is better? I find the 'canned in syrup' style to be almost painfully sweet as it is, and that's saying a LOT, coming from me!

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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David, at one point in your recipe you refer to the liquid from the pineapple as 'juice', and at another point as 'syrup'. At least here in Florida, we have both types. Which is better? I find the 'canned in syrup' style to be almost painfully sweet as it is, and that's saying a LOT, coming from me!

That's a very good question and thank you for pointing it out to me. I make the cake with both types of canned pineapple and I often go back and forth-canned in syrup or canned in natural juice-so that's why I get lax in interchanging the words in the recipe. Thanks for the reminder of an important detail.

Of course, it's a matter of taste. I agree with you on the point of using pineapple canned in syrup, it's very sweet. A 20 ounce can of pineapple slices canned in 100% pineapple juice with no sugar added has 14 grams of sugars. The same size can of pineapple slices in heavy syrup with added sugar, has 22 grams of sugars.

The cake in the photo above was made with pineapple slices in heavy syrup. If we did a side-by-side photo comparison of two cakes-one made with pineapple in juice and one made with pineapple in syrup-we'd probably not see as much sticky caramel bubbling around the edges of the cake and out the sides of the cast iron skillet than we would with the juice version. The caramel from pineapple canned in juice is going to be more "runny."

Using pineapple in juice won't make a sticky, caramel that seeps down into the cake, leaving the cake a bit more dry than the syrup version. And finally, if I use pineapple canned in natural juice it won't have as much of that gooey caramel clinging to the Maraschino cherries on top of the finished cake.

I guess for me in the end if I had to make a choice I'd go with pineapple canned in syrup. Mind you, I only make this cake maybe two, three times a year. It's very, very sweet, but oh so worth it to taste something so wonderful if only a few times a year.

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