Being typical children with unsophisticated palates, when my brother, Daniel, and I were little, we much preferred eating canned fruit to fresh. Of course my mom thought that was weird, but to me at least, it was like dessert, given the heavy syrup in which the fruit was canned.
Fruit cocktail, first introduced as fruit salad, made its initial appearance in stores in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, when packing plants started canning cut-up pieces of fruits that were not good enough to can whole. Despite its less-than-glorious origins, there was a certain cache to eating fruit cocktail. It was so popular in fact, that during World War Two, the Barron-Gray Packing Company enlisted women to help can their fruit cocktail to ensure that soldiers overseas would not be deprived.
Given the popularity of this pantry staple, it is not surprising that eventually, a recipe featuring fruit cocktail would make its appearance in homes across America. Fruit cocktail cake proved immensely popular in the 1960’s and 70’s. It was easy to make and a boon to busy housewives who readily incorporated the convenience of processed foods into their cooking. The fruit and syrup kept the cake moist, eliminating the need for added fat.
With no added fat in the ingredients, this was a good cake to make for my dad for his birthday recently. I’ve mentioned before how my parents eschew fat-laden food, so every time I bake for them, I have to find a recipe that does not contain a lot of butter or shortening (except, of course, for apple pie, which my mom loves). I have to admit, I am not a big fan of this cake myself, as I find its texture to be a bit dry and less tender than what I’m used to, but hey, a lot of people love this cake, and it brings back special childhood memories for those who grew up with it, so who am I to argue?
FRUIT COCKTAIL CAKE
(Courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
15-3/4 oz of fruit cocktail in heavy syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1) Preheat oven to 325 F.
2) Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
3) Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and granulated sugar.
4) Lightly beat the eggs and add to the dry ingredients.
5) Add the fruit cocktail with its syrup and gently combine to mix well.
6) Sprinkle the brown sugar and walnuts over the top.
7) Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (or reveals moist crumbs). Cool on a wire rack.
Did you grow up with fruit cocktail cake? Please share in the comments.