What Is a Hummingbird Cake?
Crushed pineapple, bananas, cinnamon, cream cheese, and pecans—is there any other kitchen creation that shouts "Southern classic" quite as boldly as the hummingbird cake?
The First Published Recipe
The February 1978 issue of Southern Living magazine contained a recipe (on page 206, to be precise) for “Hummingbird Cake.” Mrs. Eva (Wiggy) Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina, was the author/creator, and 43 years later it is still the magazine’s most requested recipe. The publishers of Southern Living call Mrs. Wiggin’s cake “a true Southern gem.”
If you want to find out the history of a recipe, look at the ingredients. The ingredients tell the story.
— Anne Byrne, American cookbook author and former food editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
What’s in a Name?
Why is this moist, spicy cake filled with tropical fruits called a hummingbird cake? Some food historians think we need to look a bit further south than the Carolinas.
The red-billed streamertail hummingbird is the national symbol of Jamaica. In the late 1960s, the Jamaican Tourist Board wanted to entice more American tourists to their island. Their plan was to publish press kits featuring traditional island foods. One of the recipes was for a “hummingbird cake.”
Was that the same cake created by Eva? Did Eva take time from her duties as a dormitory housemother at the University of North Carolina for an exotic trip to Jamaica?
We may never know.
1. The Original Eva Wiggins Hummingbird Cake
Eva Wiggins's cake is spiced with cinnamon, dense and moist with crushed pineapple and bananas, crunchy with toasted chopped pecans, and swathed with a rich cream cheese frosting. This is not diet food by any stretch of the imagination (although I can rationalize just about any topic). But, this original hummingbird cake is worth the calories. It is so moist and comforting; I think it will be your new family favorite. I plan to make it for my Thanksgiving dinner this year.
2. Hummingbird Sheet Cake
Hummingbird sheet cake has all the flavor, moistness, and wonderfulness of the original recipe, but without the layering. It's also a cinch to serve at potlucks and large gatherings.
3. Hummingbird Bundt Cake
In 1948, H. David Dalquist and his wife purchased the company Northland Aluminum Products, a manufacturer of Scandinavian bakeware. They renamed their product Nordic Ware. A decade later, a group of Jewish women from the Hadassah organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, wanted a baking pan similar to what they had used in the Alsace, France. They approached Nordic Ware with their request, and Mr. Dalquist fabricated the first bundt pan made of aluminum.
Some pans were made for the Hadassah group, and a few more were available for sale to the public. End of story? Yes, at least for a decade. In 1963 the New Good Housekeeping Cookbook hit the bookshelves; contained therein was a recipe for a cake . . . baked in a bundt pan. Suddenly everyone in America wanted one of those pans. They toyed with them; they baked and experimented. And in 1966 the Tunnel of Fudge cake was a finalist at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
Bundt cakes are still just as popular today. This hummingbird bundt cake is quick to mix up, and decorating it is so simple. Just a drizzle of icing is all you'll need.
4. Hummingbird Bread With Cream Cheese Frosting
This recipe is a quick bread—it's like a muffin in the shape of a loaf cake. So, consider this a gift from me to you; you can have dessert for breakfast (or tea) with this hummingbird bread with cream cheese frosting.
5. Hummingbird Poke Cake
Hummingbird cake is moist and flavorful; how could we possibly make it any better? How about turning it into a hummingbird poke cake?
A poke cake is a cake that is baked in a single layer and then intentionally poked with holes. Those holes are then filled with something creamy (for example pudding or frosting), fruit preserves, or syrup. That filling seeps into the entire cake, infusing it with flavorful moistness.
6. Hummingbird Cookies
If you're in the mood for pineapple, banana, cream cheese, and pecans but you don't want to bake an entire cake, I think these hummingbird cookies should work quite nicely. Soft and puffy, with an almost cake-like texture, these cookies are topped with just a drizzle of frosting. Each one is a satisfying little bite without being too sweet.
7. Hummingbird Whoopie Pies
The American whoopie pie is the little cake that looks like a cookie (or a cookie with the texture of a cake). Take your choice but fill them with marshmallow fluff or a generous dollop of frosting.
Hummingbird cake whoopie pies remain true to the flavor of the original cake but they're easier to serve and eat.
8. Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Hummingbird Cake
I couldn't leave this topic without giving you a gluten-free version. Grain-free, gluten-free hummingbird cake is naturally sweetened with bananas, pineapple, and honey (or maple syrup) and uses almond flour in place of all-purpose wheat flour.
© 2021 Linda Lum