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The first dish I learned to cook was a hamburger-green bean casserole topped with biscuits.

I remember it well, as I made it many times. Using Campbell’s tomato soup, canned green beans and a box of Bisquick, it came together in minutes. It was a typical 1950s dish — cheap and convenient.

Looking back now, it is easy to deride all of the food of that period. A picture of a molded Jell-O salad will make most people cringe. However, before you throw the baby out with the bath water, consider a classic 1950s dessert: the pineapple upside down cake.

Upside down cakes were certainly not an invention from the ’50s. Before ovens became available, housewives put fruit and sugar in a cast iron skillet, covered it with cake batter and cooked it over an open fire. Flipping it over was the best way to showcase the cake, no icing required.

In 1911, James Dole invented a machine to cut pineapple into perfect rings. Pineapple, a once hard-to-get ingredient, became a staple in American households — and the pineapple upside down cake was born. The maraschino cherry in the center was the perfect color accent to make a stunning cake.

A pineapple upside down cake is simple to prepare. The only tricky part is inverting it after it has cooked. A couple of tips will make the process foolproof.

First, timing is important. You don’t want to wait too long after the cake has come out of the oven. Set a timer for five minutes. Run a knife around the edge so nothing is sticking to the sides of the pan, then invert. Make sure your plate is about 11/2 times bigger than your cake pan, as excess caramel might run over the edges if the plate is too small.

Place the dish on top of the cake pan, hold the pan bottom and dish bottom with both hands, and flip the cake over quickly. The cake pan should now be on the top, and the dish on the bottom. Put both on the countertop and wait one minute. Gravity will help release the cake from the pan. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Topping

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

20-ounce can pineapple rings in juice, well drained

Maraschino cherries

Cake

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

13/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

11/3 cups flour

1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a small pan, melt the butter and mix in the brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan. Arrange the pineapple rings and place a cherry in the center of each ring.

Beat the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, then the salt, baking powder and vanilla. Add the flour alternately with the milk, mixing at medium speed. Once the last of the flour has been added, mix briefly, just until smooth.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread it to the edges of the pan. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn the pan over onto a serving plate. Wait 1 minute, then lift the pan off. If a pineapple slice sticks in the pan, just lift it out and place it back on the cake.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.

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