What Southern Folks Eat: Sweet as the sound of hummingbird wings

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 It’s hummingbird time in the South! Now that temperatures are nice and moderately warm, I’ve started to hear the hum of a few little birds flitting around… maybe checking the status of last year’s feeders? It’s time to get those out and fill them.

Hummingbirds amaze me with their speed, their beauty, and their diminutive size. They don’t let their smallness deter them from being bold and territorial, of course, as other hummingbirds who dare to approach a feeder that has been claimed by one knows. I’ve watched in amazement as two of the little guys battled each other for a feeder that would easily have fed them both, flying higher and higher until I could no longer see them, in a fight scene that rivaled the much-too-long one in that movie, Batman vs. Superman. (I’d rather have watched hummingbirds on my porch for those three hours, to be honest.)

Hummingbirds, or hummers as mama simply called them, were the inspiration for one of the South’s favorite desserts, the hummingbird cake. It wasn’t actually invented in the South, however. It hails from lovely Jamaica. There is a certain type of hummingbird, Trochilus Polytmus, that the locals had nicknamed “the doctor bird,” as the little birds poked and prodded tropical blooms with their needle-like beaks much like doctors poke and prod their patients with surgical tools. The loved the colorful little guys so much that they made the doctor bird the national bird of Jamaica, as it is only found there.

The cake consists of tropical fruits, and the colors of the pineapple, cherries and bananas apparently reminded the creator of the doctor bird cake, as it was originally called back in the 1960s, of the color of the Jamaican national bird. By the time a Southerner tried it and sent the recipe in to Southern Living magazine in the 1970s, the name had been changed to “hummingbird cake” and after the magazine published the recipe, people around the region fell in love with the moist, fruity cake.

A hummingbird cake is made with bananas, pineapple, cherries, and nuts, typically pecans. It is frosted with rich cream cheese icing and topped with whatever the baker wants to top it with, typically more pecans. It’s so decadent, so moist and delicious, that there are hundreds upon hundreds of recipes for it on the internet. When I want to make the real thing, I always immediately go to the website for Southern Living magazine and use that recipe, as it is the old school original, in my opinion, and can’t be beat.

However, when there is a need for speed in baking, I have come up with two alternatives that use a few shortcuts for the benefit of saving time, and both are really quite delicious. I think you’ll agree with me if you try out either one.

First, I have adapted the original recipe into a sheet cake format, and I used a few shortcuts that will help you get dessert ready with less work. It is a welcome addition to any dessert buffet at church or baby showers, but it’s also welcome on the supper table in your own home, I have found.

Here’s that recipe: 

Hummingbird sheet cake

  • 1 box yellow or white cake mix
  • 8-ounce can crushed pineapple with juice
  • 2 ripe bananas, peeled and chopped
  • 10-12 maraschino cherries, halved, plus 2 teaspoons juice
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans, plus 2 tablespoons chopped pecans, reserved for topping

Method

  1.  Combine all ingredients except reserved pecans in a large mixing bowl. Mix for one minute on medium speed with hand blender.
  2. Bake in a 9 x 13-inch greased baking dish at 350 for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  3. Cool completely, then frost with cream cheese icing, and top with a sprinkling of pecans. For added color, feel free to sprinkle on some chopped cherries when serving.


Next, I created a cool treat that features the fruits and nuts of the cake: a hummingbird pie!

Steph’s Hummingbird pie

Ingredients

  • 5 ounce box of instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 20 ounce can crushed pineapple (do not drain)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • small jar of maraschino cherries, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 small banana, sliced just before using
  • graham cracker pie crust
  • Reddi-Wip (in the spray can)

 Method

  1. In a mixing bowl, stir together pineapple, pudding mix, and sour cream.
  2. When well blended, add the pecans, reserving a few to sprinkle over the top.
  3. You can choose to add about 1/2 jar drained cherries to the mixture, or put them on top of the pie, whichever you prefer, or even do some of each.
  4. Pour the pie filling into a graham cracker crust, and smooth the top
  5. Chill for at least two hours...I prefer to put mine in the freezer for that time so it gets firmer and easier to cut.
  6. Just before serving, sprinkle with bananas, whipped cream, and the reserved pecans, as well as the cherries if you didn’t add to the pie filling. Enjoy this refreshing treat on any warm day!

I love making both of these recipes, and I hope you do, as well. They’re perfect for sharing, so keep in mind that neighbor who helped you with a project or gathered your mail while you were out of town, or the person who is home taking care of a sick family member, perhaps… you get the idea. It’s always fun to share something delicious as a way of saying “thank you!”

 Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three sons who are substantially taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com

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