Fruit Cocktail Cake

How produce scraps became a cake for company.

In 1893, a canning plant in Campbell, California owned by J. C. Ainsley added cherries to cut-up pieces of fruit that weren’t high-enough quality to can whole. He attached a label to this conglomeration of scraps:

Fruit salad didn’t become fruit cocktail until a few decades later. There are multiple theories of its origin (including that it was canning plant workers on the floor who changed the name), but the most recognized story is that Herbert Gray changed the name on cans from San Jose’s Barron-Gray Packing Company in 1930.

In 1944, Barron-Gray was putting out a call for women to join the workforce and help ship the now-beloved fruit cocktail to our boys overseas. From the August 22, 1944 edition of the San Jose Evening News:

Women of All Types Wanted To Enlist

All of the world American doughboys and navy fighters love their fruit cocktail, in which Barron-Gray Packing company specializes. You can help assure these fighting men their supply of fruit cocktail by helping to can it. Forget your social climbing ambitions and and your own personal whims and wishes and devote a few shifts to preparing good things for the boys who are fighting that you can maintain that American position you cherish. The Barron-Gray company is employing a lot of good women who have never worked before or at least for many years, women who want to help. The pay, while fine, is not particularly important with some of these. It’s getting the food packed that drives them to help. Enlist with Barron-Gray. Phone Ballard 6071, ask for Mr. Gregory.


(As a side note, yikes, condescend much?) As wartime rationing took over, grocery store shelves got leaner and leaner. When the war ended, three things changed. One, America’s new industrial capacity led to a rapid increase in wealth. Two, some of that capacity was devoted to creating ready-made foods; by the 1950s, grocery store shelves had about 4,000 different items, according to Sue Dawson’s Unforgettable: 100 Years of Timeless American Recipes.

And third, many of the women who were displaced by returning G.I.s incorporated these prepared foods into their recipes and diet, either because they didn’t want to return to the time when they’d spend hours cooking from scratch, or because it was considered a sign of affluence. So 1893’s produce scraps became 1950’s cake for company.

A similar recipe (and a picture of the dish) appeared in the May 11, 1960 edition of The Southeast Missourian, where it accompanied the following recipe:

Family Here Goes for That Special Fruit Cocktail Cake

One of the favorite desserts of the family of Mrs. Doyle Dumas, 1332 Perryville Road, is Fruit Cocktail Cake, and according to Mrs. Dumas, it is easy and quick to put together. It is certainly fancy enough to be served for a dessert bridge or dinner party, and it is fast enough to make an “extra-special” dessert for a week-day family dinner.

Mr. Dumas is an assistant professor of music at the State College, and is the choral director at the college. Mr. and Mrs. Dumas have two children, Benjamin, 5, who attends the Campus kindergarten and will be in the first grade there next Fall, and Laura, 19 months old. The whole family is musically inclined, and Mrs. Dumas is a member of the Choraliers, the Faculty Dames Club, and is active in the First Baptist Church, including the church choir. Mr. and Mrs. Dumas will have lived in Cape Girardeau for three years this coming August.

Here is the recipe for Fruit Cocktail Cake:

1 cup of fruit cocktail, drained
1/4 cup liquid from the fruit cocktail
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 unbeaten egg
1-1/4 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Add together fruit cocktail, liquid, sugar, vanilla and unbeaten egg and mix. Then add together sifted flour, soda and salt and fold into liquid mixture. Pour mixture into a nine-inch square pan that has been greased and floured. Sprinkle with brown sugar and nut meats. Bake in pre-heated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 35 to 40 minutes. This is good served warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream.


Sour-sop is a tropical tree grown as far north as Florida. Its fruit makes good jelly with a mango-pineapple flavor.


From the box of C.C. from Ceres, California.

Fruit Cocktail Cake

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1-1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 c. fruit cocktail
  • 2 tsp. soda
  • 2 eggs

Mix and put in greased pan.

Add this to mixture on top:

  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. nuts

And bake at 350 deg.

Boil 3 min. the following:

  • 1 stick of margarine
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. can evaporated milk

    From the kitchen of Carol Chadwick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Required fields are marked:*