Despite its name, Hummingbird cake is not made from or for hummingbirds. It is a moist, flavorful cake made from a relatively simple recipe. Many speculate that the cake's name is due to its sweetness, but the origin of the cake remains a mystery.
In 1978, Southern Living Magazine published Mrs. L.H. Wiggin's Hummingbird Cake recipe in its February issue. This publication is the first known printed reference to the cake. Mrs. Wiggin provided no explanation of the cake's name in the issue, leaving readers to wonder as to its origin. Hummingbird cake quickly became the magazine's most requested recipe and was elected favorite recipe ever in 1990. It has won many awards at various Southern county fairs including the Favorite Cake Award at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair. The recipe consists of two to three layers of cake filled with pecans, mashed bananas, crushed pineapple and cream cheese frosting.
The hummingbird, also known as the Doctor-Bird, is the Jamaican National Bird. This particular type of hummingbird lives only in Jamaica. Foodtimeline.org states that a recipe for Doctor-Bird cake appeared in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner in March 1969. The recipe included bananas, one of the main ingredients for Hummingbird Cake.
Due to the ingredients of the cake and the fact that it appeared first in Southern Living, many believe the cake originated in the Southern United States. According to the Dallas Morning News, Hummingbird cake is a "relative youngster in the pantheon of Southern classics," but is a popular favorite among those living in the South.
There are several different theories about the origination of the name for Hummingbird cake. Some say that the cake is so delicious it makes you hum with happiness while others think the cake is named because it's sweet enough for hummingbirds. Another theory is that people hover around the cake similar to the way hummingbirds hover around flowers. Foodtimeline.org notes that perhaps it was named after the way the cake draws people in and is eaten quickly, similar to the eating pattern of those tiny energetic fliers.
Hummingbird cake is known by various names in different parts of the world and has probably been around longer than what has been documented. A few of the names include Cake That Won't Last, Jamaican Cake, Granny's Best Cake, Nothing Left Cake and Never Ending Cake. Each variation has slightly different measurements, directions and added nuts and fruit, but all produce a similar result.