Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Although canned foods were commercially available in America as early as the 1820s, for many years canned foods were considered tasteless at best, and potentially hazardous at worst. Cooks who did use canned foods were often criticized as being lazy. By the 1930s, however, that reputation had completely reversed, as canning technology improved and efficiency and economy were prized. Cheaper canned goods brought expensive foods such as pineapple within the reach of ordinary Americans. The Good Housekeeping Institute promoted canned foods in quick dishes to make for company, such as in this 1933 recipe for pineapple upside down cake.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake:

  • 4 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can sliced pineapple, drained and patted dry with paper towels
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup + 6 tbsp sifted cake flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Heat the butter and sugar together in a skillet or an 8×8 pan until the sugar is melted. Let cool.
  2. Place the drained pineapple slices over the mixture in the pan.
  3. Cream the shortening, then cream in sugar gradually.
  4. Add the egg and beat for 1 minute.
  5. Sift together the dry ingredients and add alternately with the milk and vanilla.
  6. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat a few seconds longer.
  7. Pour batter over the pineapple.
  8. Bake at 350 for about 35 – 40 minutes.
  9. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes, loosen the sides with a knife, then turn out upside down onto cake platter.

Tasting notes:

This is definitely going to become one of my favorite cake recipes. The cake itself was nicely fluffy and moist, and the pineapple was tasty, but of course the crowning glory of the recipe was the caramelized brown sugar on top. It almost seemed like too much brown sugar as I was putting it into the oven, but it is definitely the right amount (if anything, there should be more). The cake was at its best while the sugar was still warm and slightly gooey, but the few leftover pieces were still delicious as breakfast the next day. I will probably not be following Good Housekeeping‘s recommendation to serve it when I have company – but only because I want it all to myself!


Good Housekeeping Institute. (1933). Good Housekeeping cook book. New York: Good Housekeeping.

Smith, A. F. (2013). Pineapples. In Food and Drink in American History: A “Full Course” Encyclopedia (Vol. 2, pp. 673-675). ABC-CLIO.

Ziegelman, J., & Coe, A. (2016). A square meal: A culinary history of the Great Depression. New York: Harper Collins.

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