When I think of summer, I think of picnics. And when I think of picnics, I think of the occasions back in the 1970s when my grandma would make two birthday cakes in September: one for my sister and one for me. Our birthdays are three days apart. Each was a sheet cake made in an aluminum 9×13 pan with a lid that slid on for transporting. My grandma, aunts, and cousins would meet our family at a state park halfway between their homes and ours where we would feast on potato salad, sandwiches, pickled eggs, and birthday cake.
This recipe reminded me of those days because it’s a sheet cake that could be easily baked in a pan that travels well. Plus, I had completely forgotten about fruit cocktail in a can. Did you know its original purpose in the 1920s was to find a use for “imperfectly shaped pears and peaches sorted out of the regular canning operation”? It also helped find a market for a surplus of seedless grapes. Apparently, you can still find it in the grocery store today. One brand is Del Monte.
I was fascinated to learn that in 1977 the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service published an 18-page Grading Manual for Canned Fruit Cocktail. It’s everything you ever wanted to know about grade standards, specifications, and procedures for producing fruit cocktail in a can.
If you’re wondering what a #2 or #303 can is (as mentioned in the recipe above), see page 17 of the Grading Manual. Apparently, it refers to the size of the can, in this case more than 15.5 ounces.
Nothing says retro like a can of fruit cocktail baked in a sheet cake!