My First Candle Order and a Pineapple Upside Down Cake Candle

Since Veterans’ Day fell on a Thursday, my district gave us Thursday and Friday off. We ended Wednesday with an assembly to honor our local veterans. Since I’m autistic and am sensitive to loud noises and crowds, my workplace accommodations with my school administration allowed me to remain in my Culinary Arts kitchen where I used this time to make cheeseburgers with caramelized onions for a few of my colleagues, some of whom were veterans.

After returning home I found that I had received my first candle order. A customer had purchased two Philadelphia style cinnamon roll candles.

This order will be mailed out on Friday. I have included an additional brownie a la mode candle as a token of appreciation for having received this order.

I subsequently turned my attention to working on my latest project; pineapple upside down cake candles. The term “upside down cake” was first used during the late 19th century. Prior to this time, this type of product was known as a skillet cake. Before the invention of gas and electric ovens, early ovens were heated by burning wood. Since wood burning ovens were not commonly found in most households, skillet cakes were either made over cook fires or stoves.

A skillet cake is made by placing a layer of fruit in syrup over the bottom of an iron pan. It is then covered with cake batter. Since chemical leaveners weren’t invented until the early 20th century, these early skillet cakes would have been unleavened. After baking the cake over a cookfire, the cake was inverted so that the fruit topping is facing up.

The first skillet cakes were produced during the Middle Ages. These cakes would have been made with apples, peaches, pears, or berries. Since sugar was an expensive import from the Middle East, most cakes would have been sweetened with honey prior to the 18th century when sugar became more readily available.

real upside down apple cake

Since pineapple is a tropical fruit, pineapple skillet cakes weren’t common prior to the 20th century. This changed in 1901 after Jim Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and began selling canned pineapple. In 1925 Hawaiian Pineapple sponsored a contest for creative pineapple recipes. The judges for this contest were drawn from popular magazines including Good Housekeeping and McCall’s. The writers of the best one hundred recipes were each awarded $50. Although this may not seem like a lot by today’s standards, in 1925 a fifty dollar prize would have exceeded the average weekly income of $32.92. The recipients would also have received bragging rights since their recipes would have been published in a cookbook (pictured below) for distribution by the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.

Hawaiian Pineapple Company Cookbook circa 1926

Of the 60,000 submissions that were received, 2,500 were for different versions of a pineapple upside-down cake. In addition to publishing the very best version of this recipe in their cookbook, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company also began publishing copies of this cake recipe in their pineapple ads. The ads proved to be wildly popular as evidenced by the increased sale for canned pineapple.

Unfortunately for Hawaiian Pineapple, the Great Depression (1929-1933) hurt the company’s bottom line. The stock market crash of 1929 wiped out millions of investors and caused a run on over leveraged banks. By 1933, over 15 million Americans (roughly 1 in 4 adults) were unemployed.

The financial disaster of the stock market crash was made worse by a prolonged drought that has come to be known as the Dust Bowl. Between 1930 and 1940 a drought in the Southwestern region of the United States made the ground so dry that gusting winds literally blew away the topsoil. The drought destroyed one hundred million acres of American farmland and displaced 2.5 million farm families throughout Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. This natural disaster resulted in the greatest mass migration in American history as people abandoned their farms in search of food and work. Delinquent farm mortgages further accelerated the collapse of the banking industry. Between 1930 and 1933, over nine thousand banks failed within the United States.

Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas, April 1935.
George E. Marsh Album/NOAA

Without money to pay for luxuries such as canned pineapple, people stopped buying this product. Sales plummeted. In a desperate bid to recoup at least some of their expenses, grocery stores began selling canned pineapple at prices that were far below their wholesale purchase costs. Pineapple sales plummeted as groceries across the United States prioritized stocking basic staples like beans, flour, potatoes, and cooking oil over luxury products like pineapple.

After a net loss of $3.8 million in 1931 coupled with another $5.5 million loss during the first nine months of 1932, the board of directors ousted Jim Dole as the company’s CEO. The Castle & Cook Company subsequently acquired a controlling interest of Hawaiian Pineapple. In 1991 Castle & Cook rebranded itself as the Dole Company even though Jim Dole no longer had any role in this business.

Although pineapple is still grown on the Dole plantation in Hawaii, most of the pineapple that is canned by Dole is now grown in Thailand, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast where the operating costs are much lower.

real pineapple upside down cake

Since I have silicone molds for producing pineapple chunks and rings, I used a silicone cake mold to make a test model for the pineapple upside down cake candle pictured below. The candle smells of cake, pineapple, and cherries. After making the cake, I placed pineapple chunks over the cake and filled in the gaps with cake colored wax. After inserting the wick, I added a cherry garnish to emulate the cakes pictured in the pineapple ad.

In the original production model, the top of the cherry was flush with the embedded pineapple in a manner similar to the cherries pictured above. After looking at this candle, I decided that some vertical height would make the candle more visually interesting and I placed another cherry on top of the first.

Since I didn’t like the look of the tiny cherry, my 2nd production model featured a much larger bing cherry. Instead of using pineapple slices, I used a whole pineapple ring.

For the third iteration of this candle, I replaced the pineapple ring with pineapple chunks because I liked the contrast in the first candle between the pineapple and the cake. I kept the use of a bing cherry from the 2nd candle.

To give each candle a moist appearance, I brushed them with a water based candle lacquer. Having decided that I liked the look of the third candle the best, I produced a few more.

Since I am not in any rush to open an Etsy store, I will begin stocking the candles I’ve made over the past few weeks with my Shop Nevada store. This will include the pumpkin cream cheese rolls, the Genoa cherry cakes, and the apples, grapes, and oranges.

If and when I open an Etsy store, I can always draw down upon my existing Shop Nevada inventory to stock this store. In the meanwhile at least these candle items will be available for sale albeit through a vending platform that is not nearly as popular as Etsy.

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