Created on the island of Jamaica, hummingbird cake was named after the islands national bird, the Red-billed Streamer-tail. These birds are members of the hummingbird family and are only found in Jamaica.
The cake typically has two or three layers with pecans, bananas, crushed pineapple, cinnamon and a cream cheese frosting. Most probably both cake and its name originated as a Jamaican marketing ploy. After Air Jamaica was established in October 1968, the new company chose this beloved hummingbird as its logo. Shortly thereafter, the Jamaica Tourist Board distributed ‘press kits’ to the foreign media. They showcased various ‘local’ dishes, focusing on American consumers, and was intended to attract American visitors to the island.
There are several theories about the origin of the cake’s name. One is that the cake is so delicious it makes you hum with happiness while another is that it is sweet enough for hummingbirds. Yet 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 energetic little fliers.
Unlike traditional banana cakes, the bananas in hummingbird cake are usually left in pieces rather than mashed, providing texture and bursts of flavor along with the pineapple and nuts.
I am making an adaption of the hummingbird cake but using zucchini instead of bananas and drizzling it with a lemon glaze. I’ve also noticed a few other variations that sound real good. One was with grated sweet potato and roasted bananas as well as a rhubarb one — Yum!