Film and TV

Investigating Food in Film: Cuppa Cuppa Cake from Steel Magnolias

It's little surprise many famous movie scenes involve food; there's a certain pleasure in watching characters eat the foods we enjoy in real life or grapple with the familiar challenges of cooking, say, lobsters. But have you ever been watching a film and someone mentions a food you've never heard of? Or there's a dining scene and you can't pay attention to the dialogue because you're too distracted wondering what the heck they're eating? This series is devoted to answering those questions.

Die-hard fans of Steel Magnolias may be understandably disappointed this post is not about the garish armadillo confection served at Shelby's (Julia Roberts) wedding. While that groom's cake is certainly a sight to see, there's little mystery to it, at least for me. Just a whole lotta red velvet cake and gray icing.

More intriguing, however, is the "Cuppa Cuppa Cake" first mentioned by Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), who solicits Truvy's (Dolly Parton) help with the exact terms of the recipe. Perhaps because I was bred a Yankee, I had never heard of this cake.

It turns out the recipe couldn't be simpler:

Cuppa Cuppa Cake

1 cup of flour 1 cup of sugar 1 cup of fruit cocktail (with the syrup)

Bake in "hot oven" until brown and bubbly.

Note: Truvy recommends serving Cuppa Cuppa Cake with ice cream to "cut the sweetness."

God bless Southern cooks. The Cuppa Cuppa Cake has previously been investigated by other food blogs, such as The Pioneer Woman and WorthTheWhisk.

What I have yet to discover are the origins of this dessert. It's pretty clear Cuppa Cuppa Cake does not appear de novo in Steel Magnolias, and commentary I have read suggests it has long been a traditional homemade dessert in the Deep South. But are we talking 20th century or earlier? I am also wondering whether Cuppa Cuppa Cake refers exclusively to the recipe Truvy outlines or if that's a broader descriptor for any confection you make with a cup:cup:cup ratio of ingredients. Finally, what about variations? Standard fruit cocktail (peaches, cherries, grapes, pineapple) seems to be the most popular version, but I don't seem why any canned fruit in sweet juice wouldn't produce an equally tasty outcome.

Readers, do you have any insight on Cuppa Cuppa Cake?

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Joanna O'Leary