I trace my own history of the cake to my North Carolina connections, which date back to the late 1970s. And this cake has all the markings of a 1970s recipe: cake mix, canned fruit, Cool Whip, and instant pudding mix. My sister and brother-in-law, Pamela and Larry Fagans, lived in North Carolina when I was a teenager. First in Hickory, then in Greensboro. Years later, my brother and sister-in-law, Keith and Kim (Pigman) Osborne, moved to Raleigh and for years owned a second home on Bald Head Island. We’ve all eaten a lot of North Carolina barbecue over the years — sometimes at “pig pickin’s.”
For those who don’t know, that’s a pig roast and usually quite a social gathering. A whole pig is roasted and diners pick the meat off. De rigueur sides include cole slaw, baked beans, potato salad, and, for some, macaroni salad or mac’ and cheese. Banana pudding seems to have grown in popularity as a go-to dessert. But when I was a teenager and pig pickin’ novice, Pig Pickin’ Cake was a necessity, at least in the crowd my sister socialized with. I probably first made one at her home in Greensboro. For a few years, summer and fall meant Pig Pickin’ Cake on a regular basis. Then, for some reason, we just sort of stopped making them.
I’d been craving one a couple of months ago, so I dug around and found a recipe in Mom’s “recipe jar” (actually, it’s a large soup tureen that’s sat atop our refrigerator for decades), handwritten on a piece of ruled notebook paper:
• One Duncan Hines Butter Golden Cake mix.
• One 11 oz. can mandarin oranges (do not drain).
• Four large eggs.
• ¼ cup vegetable oil.
Optional: add small amount (¼ teaspoon) of either vanilla or orange extract. (I don’t do this.)
Empty oranges, with juice, into mixing bowl. Gently mash orange segments with a fork to break apart. Add eggs, oil, and cake mix. Stir well. Divide batter between three eight-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes (until firm, but not dried out). Turn cakes out to cool.
• 16 oz. crushed pineapple, drained well (I use a towel to wring it dry).
• One small box Jello instant vanilla pudding mix.
• 16 oz. Cool Whip, thawed.
Place drained pineapple in bowl, stir in pudding mix until well blended. Fold in Cool Whip. Optional at this point: fold in 1 cup coconut. (I don’t.) Slather mixture between cooled cake layers and on top and sides of cake.
Refrigerate cake immediately, preferably in an heirloom cake holder passed down from your grandmother or favorite aunt (or pick one up at an estate sale or Goodwill). Keep cake cool until serving time.
I had one Facebook friend tell me he’d grown up eating this cake, which his family called “Dream Cake.”
As I write this, it is Friday afternoon and Mom and I are about to head to Big Stone Gap for opening night of the 56th season of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” the official outdoor drama of Virginia. I will let you know how it goes next week, along with information about other outdoor dramas in our region.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Kingsport Times News. Email him at [email protected]