baked oats green chile chicken enchiladas chow mein bakery-style butter cookies

copyright jennifer yu © 2004-2023 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

we’re out of the (red)woods

Recipe: pineapple orange cake

It’s a nice thing to unplug every now and again – to forget about blogs, emails, phone calls, tweets, facebook status updates and just head for the sticks. I learned from our last marathon-road-trip-photo-shoot that all work and no play stresses the hell out of Jeremy. So on this trip, we’re mixing it up a little and I’m working very hard to take it easier. Driving north we popped through wine country with a stop in Healdsburg for a little wine tasting, wine purchasing, and scoping out of things to do for my dad’s birthday this year. Jeremy is in love with wine country. Our first day in the redwoods was spent on the coast. I startled not one, not two, but three snakes. We went in search of river otters but found seals playing in the water instead. The lagoons and beaches are a birder’s delight, full of activity and fishing (I like these birds, they eat sushi).

on the coast

I grew up on the water, but I’m not a beach person. What I really came for were the trees. I am a tree person. We spent the next two days hiking among the majestic redwood forests.

this guy had something to say

lots of ferns

all of that rain has got to go somewhere


My timing seems to be sucking this year because so many of the blooms are “late”. Cold, wet spring weather has delayed the rhododendrons. Of course, all of the domestic rhodies in town are in full glorious bloom. I just prefer the wild ones.

the tallest trees in the world: redwoods

Finishing the shoot a little early, we decided to swing through San Jose en route to the next shoot. That was Sunday – Mother’s Day. I called my mom from the road (Jeremy was driving – as a rule, we do not engage in simultaneous phone yammer and driving) to see if she and Grandma wanted to have dinner together. Yes, yes of course! Jeremy and I stayed in town overnight and helped with a few errands in the morning. I have come to recognize that as people age, what they cherish more than anything is time spent with those they love. We had lunch together at Sushi O Sushi before Jeremy and I drove off for the mountains. As we walked out of the restaurant my mom squeezed my hand and said it was the best Mother’s Day she’s had in a long time. That makes it all worth it.

the sashimi was so fresh and wonderful i could have cried

Jeremy and I are working on our laptops, waiting for batteries to finish charging, and reading last minute weather reports tonight. Before I doze off into full banana sleep (a phrase I shouted as I drifted in and out of consciousness on the long car ride north), I have a recipe from my redneck past to share.

yeah, that’s a box mix and other scary ingredients

thankfully the pecans were not produced by a giant food corporation

This isn’t a recipe you’ll typically find on urb. I generally pride myself in making food more or less from scratch or from raw ingredients. But if you will take note, I hail from southern Virginia. The cake is called a Pig Picking Cake. I have no idea where the name comes from, but it is in essence a pineapple orange cake. It’s a decent go-to dish when you’re in a bind for something to slap together for a potluck.

canned mandarin oranges and eggs

mix it all together

I had brought one to a department picnic in graduate school when someone standing behind me asked if I had made this lovely cake. My response was, “Oh this is just an old white trash recipe from home.” That was before I turned around to see the startled look on the face of the wife of a most revered professor. Smooth move, Jen.

pour into a greased pan

meanwhile, mix the frosting

Pig picking cake is a doctored-up yellow cake slathered with a topping of Cool Whip, instant vanilla pudding mix, and crushed pineapple. If you don’t know what is in it, it’s pretty good. I hadn’t made it in years and it was strange to buy things like cake mix or pudding mix. Sometimes it’s good to look back on your beginnings and see how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned. That, and it’s always a hit at the potlucks.

top it off and serve

Pineapple Orange Cake (aka Pig Picking Cake)
[print recipe]

1 package yellow cake mix (add 1/4 cup flour @8500 ft.)
4 eggs
11 oz. can mandarin oranges, with syrup
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup pecans, chopped
20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 package (3.4 oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix
12 oz. Cool Whip, thawed

Preheat oven to 350°F (375°F @8500 ft.). Beat the eggs, oranges, and syrup together. Add cake mix, oil, and pecans. Beat until mixed. Pour into a greased 9×13-inch pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the pineapple and pudding mix together in a bowl. Mix in the Cool Whip and refrigerate until ready to use. When the cake is done, remove from oven and let cool completely. Frost the cake with the Cool Whip topping. Serve.

46 nibbles at “we’re out of the (red)woods”

  1. Daiming Zhu says:

    Americans are so lucky (or unlucky ?), they have coolwhip and jell-o and miracle whip and a whole lot of other things! We just don’t get these in Australia =(. I love the look of the cake nonetheless!

  2. Katie says:

    What stunning photos and that desert looks delicious too! Daiming Zhu – I’ve noticed some local supermarkets sell Miracle Whip with the mayonnaises, so you just might be able to get it! :)

  3. barbara says:

    Oh that’s a hoot to see this recipe here. So not the usual urb food. I had a cook book called White Trash Cooking by Ernest Mathew Mickler but gave it away when we were decluttering before we left NZ.

  4. Leslie says:

    Wow absolutely stunning photos! Love it.

  5. Ciaochowlinda says:

    gorgeous photography. I haven’t seen that cake since the 80s, when I used to make it too. Forgot all about it, but it is delicious.

  6. Simone says:

    Gorgeous gorgeous photos and that cake just looks fabulous!

  7. Eileen says:

    Ah, my mom used to make a version of this cake, baked in a loaf pan and sliced into layers filled with the pineapple-cool whip nastiness. That cake stirs my frustration for my mom’s burning desire to americanize herself, through recipes from popular wifely magazines. Hey, it was the 80’s… I should be more forgiving :)

  8. Aran says:

    wow jen… amazing photos. gorgeous!

  9. Susan says:

    Thank you for your truly wonderful photos…they’re always such a gift. You have killer talent!

    Your cake recipe reminds me of a time when I was newly married and responsible for my mother-in-law’s birthday cake. I made my favorite cake – a somewhat labor intensive poppy seed cake, leavened with egg whites, split into four layers and filled with english cream and walnuts. It is, to me, one of the finest cakes on earth and was sure to impress my new family. So – we were hit with a blizzard on her birthday and the family couldn’t get together for the party. I could have made something easier for the postponed party, but I had told everyone about this wonderful cake and was committed showing the family my baking talents…two weeks later I made another poppy seed cake. Since the party had grown in size, my sister-in-law had also made a large sheet cake topped with what Eileen, in the previous message, calls pineapple-cool whip nastiness. Of course my second ‘masterpiece’ was left almost entirely untouched…they really didn’t like it…while everyone glommed down the nasty (but tasty) sheet cake.

  10. Debbie says:

    I love your pictures. They are so beautiful. I also think the cake looks delicious. Sometimes easy does equal delicious!!!!

  11. Manggy says:

    Oooooh. I’d like to try this using butter flour sugar etc – Cool Whip isn’t easy to come by, and if we do, it’s not cheap. I say this because I’m a sucker for pineapple and mandarin oranges. Yummeee.

    Your mum is so sweet. It made me a little teary-eyed (probably as much as when you ate fresh sashimi, hehe :)

  12. Raquelita says:

    Jen, found your blog a few days ago and, man, have you dropped from the heavens or what?! A fellow high-altitude baker, Chinese cook and all-round foodie…it’s all too good to be true :) We celebrated my birthday with a weekend getaway to Boulder a few weeks ago and exulted in the farmer’s market and cuisine (Frasca is a bit beyond budget at present but we had a fantastic – albeit cramped – meal at Radda followed by an even better brunch the next day at The Kitchen.) You’re lucky to live in the one town in Colorado with decent restaurants!

    Loving the photos, the recipes and the wit. And your love for your family.

  13. Caramelia says:

    Hi Jen!
    I love that you remember your childhood and the beloved sweets from this time. I’d love to try the cake, but here in Austria we don’t have yellow cake mixture and Cool Whip and Instant pudding filling (these seem to me like some strange sci-fi foods from a far distant future …).

    So I’ll try to recreate the cake from scratch and will keep you updated!

    So long, Cara

  14. Silvia says:

    Dear Jen!

    As far as I know you could make anything look good. Your pictures are AMAZING!
    Glad you had a nice Mother’s Day with your family. My parents live on the other side of the world and it’s true, whenever we see eachother we don’t have to do anything special. Just being around eachother is enough.

    Looking forward to more pics and recipes…

  15. Kathy says:

    Your photos are outstanding!

  16. Helen in CA says:

    Oh, Jen. You were up my way! (Sonoma County)

    living here in the redwoods is something else. You captured them beautifully!!!

  17. April in CT says:

    I haven’t bought a box cake mix in years, but for this I might have to give in! Gorgeous, gorgeous pictures. :)

  18. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) says:

    Beautiful pictures!! Love that waterfall shot. Cake looks good, even though I’m a scratch baker!

  19. Donna says:

    Absolutely amazing photography.

  20. Diana Banana says:

    at my friend’s engagement party, my favorite thing was her aunt’s trashy graham cracker “casserole” layered with instant chocolate pudding. the pudding soaked into the crackers overnight, and it was so divine, i didn’t eat any of the other home made, family recipe greek desserts the grandmas made. (the thing was even in a disposable foil cake pan!)

  21. Mrs Ergül says:

    You are right! I have almost never seen anything like this on URB! But if Jen says its passable, it is passable!

    The photo of the coastline is stunning! I love the colour of the water!
    How long was the exposure of the waterfall photo? The water looks so silky!

    The lunch at Sushi O Sushi looks like quite a spread! I’m glad you had a good get-together with your family. These simple times can mean so much.


  22. Katherine says:

    sushi o sushi is my go to spot! its right around the corner from my school and it is A-MAZING. love it.

  23. Ruth Ann says:

    Amazing photos as usual! Surprising cake (and ingredients) but if it is good, it’s good.

  24. Ali says:

    I just wanted to say, adding another voice to the chorus, I appreciate your beautiful photos and recipes too.

  25. Heather says:

    Ha ha, I think I remember that cake at a gathering, and maybe even that comment. It reminds me of our first cooking lesson. :) Love the pics, makes me miss Cali and the trees.

  26. Lori says:

    Whoa, shiver me timbers, I never expected to find this recipe here. I like your versatility. I rarely use box but sometimes it works. And leave it too you to turn redneck into sophistication.

  27. Jenny says:

    Ha ha ha! You crack me up! I’ve almost become irrationally scared of doctored box mix cake since it seems so ubiquitous amongst the cake community! Maybe I’ll give my first ‘box mix’ a try, just dont tell anyone!

  28. TheKitchenWitch says:

    White Trash Motherlode! I absolutely love that you mix things up on this blog!

    And Jen, I looked at those photos and my jaw honestly dropped. WOW. You are so gifted, my friend.

  29. Claire says:

    Just wondering, did you take those beautiful photos in the wine country in a particular state/national park? I live in Northern California, and now absolutely must go there. The photo of the green riverbanks looks like it came out of a dream world. Wonderful work! You have quite a talent for photography.

  30. Lisa says:

    Jen, this recipe came from Mrs. Edna Davidson, our division secretary for 20 years. She is from Virginia and now is about 89 years old and still around. Glad that you still remember this. The cake is light and not too sweet. Never failed to please anyone.

  31. courtney aka glamah says:

    I was just in the Muir Woods with the Redwoods this weekend. Love the Bay Area.

  32. Lisa is Bossy says:

    Yay!! Love that I’ve introduced you to a new fave restaurant in San Jo’!! It’s been my favorite for *gulp* about 9 1/2 years so it’s certainly tried and true. I wish the prices from 9 1/2 years ago were still around…

    This recipe reminds me of the frog eye salad I made a few months ago. Similarly white trash. Similarly delicious.

    Travel safe!!

  33. wing@foodarts says:

    Photos-stunning, pig picking cake (from a gal that, like you, works from scratch) -amazing! Made it for a co-worker birthday on a Friday and again for a grad party on Saturday. Devoured by the crowd like ducks on a June bug! Thanks!

  34. tasteofbeirut says:

    Your photos are so beautiful! They make me miss (sorely) Northern California for its breathtaking beauty. Sigh.

  35. Liz says:

    I found your blog about 6 months ago because i googled candied orange peels, I fell in love because your recipes are fabulous, and I keep coming back because your photo’s make my mouth water. As a Californian recently transplanted to TX I’m teary-eyed looking at your fabulous photos of my home sweet home. I grew up less than an hour from Yosemite, and spent numerous vacations on the coast along highway 1 from Morro Bay up to Oregon. You captured precisely what it is I miss about California, great wine, beautiful scenery, and the best of the beach and the mountains, thanks for a wonderful snapshot of home!!!

  36. Marisa says:

    I think we all need a little bit of white trash every now and again… :-) Your photos are absolutely spectacular Jen – especially love the first one and the waterfall one.

  37. Leonie says:

    What absolutely beautiful photographs – that oxalis one in particular – so clear and intricate. I want to paper a room with it!

  38. jenyu says:

    Susan – omg, that story had me laughing out loud and crying on the inside because I can totally understand both sides. You know, sometimes our “made from scratch” fancy pastries just aren’t what most of “America” are looking for ;) xo

    Manggy – I thought of that too… I’d love to see what you come up with. I think the non white-trash version might actually taste ten times better. I can TASTE the “fake” ingredients in this recipe. And thanks, my mom is a lovely woman. Her hugs always make me feel like I’m home again.

    Raquelita – wow! I hope you had a lovely birthday! Frasca is awesome. I need to go back!

    Cara – I actually think if you make a yellow cake with the goodies and then substitute the cool whip with real whipping cream, use vanilla extract instead of pudding, and the pineapple, it might taste pretty good. Good luck.

    Helen – what a gorgeous gorgeous part of the country you live in. I love it there.

    Diana – hi-larious!!

    Mrs. Ergul – I think the waterfall exposure was no more than 2 seconds. Dappled sunlight makes it tough.

    Heather – yeah, I think you were there!! :) Didn’t we make this cake for your cooking lesson?! xxoo

    Claire – oh, the wine country was en route to the Redwoods. The photos here are from Redwoods National Park north of Arcata. Really gorgeous – you should definitely give it a visit if you live in No Ca!

    Lisa – thank mom :)

    Liz – aw hon, I hope you get back to CA soon. I lived there for ten years (southern Cali) and even though I LOVE LOVE LOVE Colorado, California still tugs at me (as you can tell – I keep going back!) :)

  39. Kristi says:

    How many people would you say this feeds?

  40. jenyu says:

    Kristi – probably 16-20

  41. Angelita says:

    OMG… Jen, first let me say that I stumbled upon your site 3 days ago, and have been here ‘wallowing’ ever since. Every day since Monday I have been catching up on your photo’s, recipes and your journey. Your blog is as beautiful as you seem to be. I keep thinking how similar and different we are all at the same time, and then BAM! here you go with a Pig Pickin Cake… OMG… seriously… While your recipe if similar to my families recipe (and they hail from northern NC, just a few miles from southern VA), this is the post that made me stop and go ‘you gotta write this girl!’ a pig pickin cake comes from the cake often taken to.. wait for it…. pig pickins! (a large pig cooked in either a big pit dug in the earth, or in a huge grill made from a very large drum, for hours) and is SO traditional in our neck of the woods. And as red-neck (and I say that with love in my heart) as it seems, the pig pickin cake has also been my one and the only cake I have ever asked for (and been proudly delivered I might add) every birthday since I was able to speak it’s name.

    Love ur blog, can’t wait to catch up on the remainder of the posts.

    Be well

  42. Kristi says:

    I accidentally used cook&serve pudding instead of instant for the topping… will it make a difference?

  43. jenyu says:

    Kristi – not sure, never tried it. I’m guessing it will just make everything “sweet” the way instant does.

  44. Jean says:

    Can you make cupcakes with this recipe????????????

  45. jenyu says:

    Jean – probably, but you’d have to adjust the bake time.

  46. Mom says:

    My mom used to make this cake. I love it!

leave a reply