Everything holds a history, particularly delicious desserts. Take pie, for example, spelled “pye” in medieval England. Remember the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence”? Indeed, at one time in British culture, live birds flew from pies in surprise entertainment for children at suppertime.

Not as wildly exciting, but wonderful nonetheless, I remember my mother standing before the kitchen counter forming perfect balls of dough with her hands. The synchronized sound of her rolling pin on the countertop often roused expectation of relatives for dinner.

There was no such thing as one pie for dessert in Mom’s kitchen.

Although famous for her flaky piecrusts, Mom also baked spice cakes and iced them in peaks of seafoam frosting. Her chocolate and banana-nut layer cakes with smooth, buttercream frosting also developed a palate for culinary excellence.

Mom’s cookbooks I inherited also prove these favorites merely scratch the surface of the pastries she served her family, neighbors, and relatives.

Considering this heritage, when my friend Marilyn gifted me a darling glass hummingbird last January, I hung the yellow-winged trinket below a kitchen cabinet for cheerful company. To my delight, on rare sunny days, the hummingbird’s yellow head and green beak cast sunbeams while I cook and clean.

One recent day, while pondering what pastry to serve Marilyn and our fellow tea friend, Anne, for our February gathering, I recalled someone raving about the Hummingbird Cake.

Yes! That’s the perfect dessert to serve, I decided, and consulted my “Better Homes and Gardens” cookbook, Mom’s “Pillsbury” cookbook, and Volume I and II of “The Gourmet Cookbook.”

Not one Hummingbird Cake recipe.

Surprisingly, my more modern Southern cookbooks do not include the recipe, either.
Reluctantly, I visited the Web and found a plethora of Hummingbird Cake recipes with common ingredients.

Furthermore, I learned this supposedly world-famous cake is a Jamaican dessert introduced in the 1960s by the Jamaican Tourist Board.

This explains why Mom never baked a Hummingbird Cake, and why the recipe does not appear in cookbooks published in the 1960s.

Known in Jamaica as their “Dr. Bird Cake,” so named after their national bird, the hummingbird, they use their local pineapple, bananas, and spices to stimulate their tourist industry.

The pliable recipe settled into the U.S. South, the likes of “Southern Living” magazine and Paula Deen creating their version once they got hold of the Jamaican recipe. This explains the recent, rapid growth of the cake in contemporary accounts of American cooking, and then the world’s.

Consuming generous amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, the dense, moist cake smothered in cream cheese frosting and heavily garnished with toasted pecans, we cleaned our plates.

Dear Reader, although there is no such thing as one kind of cake or pie on my table, I’m certain the Hummingbird Cake is destined to return.

Oh, and the sherry glass filled to the brim with dark chocolate ganache, with the pot of steamy Earl Gray tea, completed our culinary experience entirely. And the ladies took plenty of cake home.

Hummingbird Cake

(350 degrees)
3 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon each nutmeg and ginger
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 cups mashed very ripe bananas
8 oz. cup crushed pineapple
¾ cup vegetable, or olive, or coconut oil
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2 cups toasted pecans


8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk

Toast 2 cups pecans in oven. Grease and flour 2 round baking pans or bundt pan: place 1 cup pecans in bottom of pan(s).

Blend flour with dry ingredients; add wet ingredients, pour into pan(s).

Bake for one hour or until cake is dry with toothpick test; cool cake for two hours.

Meanwhile, whip cream cheese with remaining ingredients for frosting. Pour over cake and sprinkle with remaining coarsely chopped pecans.

Contact Iris at irisfarmletters@gmail.com.