Out of Frying Pan, Upside-Down Cake: Committing Political Commentary by Dessert

The election season is upon us, dear children, and the airwaves and newspapers are filled with confusion and contention at every turn.

I have therefore turned, with hope of enlightenment and edification, to our foremothers. Perhaps they may offer some wise commentary upon the current discombobulated state of our national political affairs.

Sure enough, on page 476 of the 1944 Wartime Edition of the American Woman Victory Cook Book, there was indeed a commentary from foremother cooks for people like me, today’s pudgy and perplexed.

As if it were a prophet, foretelling the campaign season which will soon draw to a close, the cookbook most beloved by war brides during World War II offered a recipe for…

“Mixture for Upside-Down Cakes.”

Truly, if ever a campaign season has felt upside-down, this is it.
No matter what your persuasion or inclination or jaw-dropping-what-are-they-thinking-lation, this election has surely been one for the books.

Not sure what genre, but probably not-literary and hoping for

In other words, these are upside-down times, dear children. What a perfect time for an upside-down cake.

One other consideration? The upside-down cake is made in a frying pan and baked at high heat for a cake, 425 degrees. Doesn’t that bring to mind, “out of the frying pan, into the…”? Nuff said.

Many of you may be thinking at this point, “pineapple upside-down cake,” but the upside-down cake historically provides equal-opportunities to all fruit ingredients.

Before Mr. Dole canned his first pineapple, hundreds of years ago, people made upside-down cakes over an open fire with apples or peaches, prunes or apricots, raisins or whatever else they had at hand. It was something like a pancake perhaps, but the principle was the same.

Well into this century, prunes were a popular fruit for use in upside-down cakes. (Make of that what you will, in terms of political commentary.)

Speaking of Mr. Dole, he was indeed a marketing wizard. His promotion of pineapple for the upside-down cake in women’s magazines and recipe contests during the early 1900s left other fruit contenders way behind.

Alas, most of the contender fruits are now as lost to history as is the name of Adlai Stevenson’s vice-presidential running mate. (Google, if you’re curious.)

The fruit that does usually play with the pineapple in this recipe is the cherry, which—when the cake is flipped over topsy-turvy—adds a bright note of color.

As a matter of fact, the recommended fruit for the upside-down cake in the Victory Cookbook is the sour cherry. (Sour. Make of that what you will, politically speaking.)

In the 1950s and 1960s the upside-down cake was often made in a free-standing electric skillet. My mother usually made hers in the electric frying pan that never left the counter next to the stove.

If you still have one of these “antiques,” The Columbus Dispatch has published a recipe from the instruction manual that came with the Sunbeam model. Several fruits are suggested—pineapple, peaches, pears or apricot halves—and a yellow cake mix is used for the batter. (Simple, I like that.)

Also presented here is the recipe from the World War II Victory Cookbook, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer. It simply says to use a batter or dough, and I found one on-line you may want to try. Or, you can use the dependable ol’yellow cake mix.

Nothing wrong with a mix, after all.

I know the Victory recipe calls for white or maple or brown sugar, but honestly, the brown sugar makes the pineapple sing. You’ll regret it if you don’t use it.

Mr. Dole would want you to use brown sugar, to make the pineapple as good as it can be, and he would want you to brag on how much better pineapple is in this cake than other fruits are.

Yes, ma’m. That Mr. Dole was a marketing genius, and the dessert world is all the better for it.

Therefore, may I suggest…

As you watch the election returns, let a dessert with upside-down gooey goodness help you make it through the night.

Just keep in mind: this upside-down recipe is brought to you by a Victory cookbook.

When the campaigning is done and the votes are counted and the airwaves are safe again for Snickers and Mr. Clean ads, just remember: Victory is who we are.

So let us declare that on the morning after, we will leave the electoral discombobulation behind, return to being who we are—and turn the world right-side up again.

Victory, children. Victory.

Sweet, sweet victory.


Mixture for Upside-Down Cakes
American Woman’s Cookbook,
Victory Wartime Edition

2 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. sugar (white, brown, or maple)

Fresh or canned fruit

In a deep cake pan or heavy skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. butter. Sprinkle 4 Tbsp. sugar over bottom of pan and cover with well-drained sour cherries (or other canned or fresh fruit).

Pour batter or light yeast dough over this layer and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. (Brown sugar is better with the pineapple. Halved maraschino cherries are placed in the center of the pineapple rings.–Sue)

Batter for Upside-down Cake

1-1/3 C. all-purpose flour

2/3 C. granulated sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

2/3 C. milk

1/4 C. butter or margarine, softened

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together sugar, flour and baking powder. Add the 1/4 C. butter or margarine, egg, milk and vanilla. Beat with electric mixer on low speed one minute. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, loosen sides and invert onto plate.

Upside Down Cake for Electric Skillet
The Columbus Dispatch

(Use any desired fruit such as pineapple, peach, pear or apricot halves.)

1/4 C. butter or margarine

1 C. packed brown sugar

1 can (20 ounces) fruit, drained

1 pkg. (18.5 ounces) yellow cake mix

Whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

Set dial on electric skillet to 220 degrees. Add butter. When melted, add brown sugar, spreading evenly over surface. Arrange fruit over.

Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Pour over fruit. Set dial to 260 degrees. Cover and cook about 30 minutes or until dry on top.

Loosen edges of cake with a spatula. Invert cake onto plate. Let stand a few minutes then remove frypan. Serve cake warm or cold, garnished with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Sheila Carter, Greenfield