A regrettable food name

The chirpy and supremely annoying commercials for Dump Cakes are back on my cable tv. Here’s a sample:

The box of stuff you just dump on top of the other ingredients and bake in the oven:


The name dump cake looks like a N + N compound, and not one of the possibly relevant senses of the noun dump is at all savory, and one (the sense that came first to my mind) is decidedly unsavory, on the edge of scatological taboo. Think of the idiom take a dump. How could the Dump Cakes people not have noticed this?

Lexical notes. The possibly relevant senses of the noun from NOAD2 (I put aside senses from the world of computing):

1 a site for depositing garbage.

[1a] [usu. with modifier] a place where a particular kind of waste, esp. dangerous waste, is left: a nuclear waste dump.

[1b] a heap of garbage left at a dump.

[1c] informal  an unpleasant or dreary place: she says the town has become a dump.

[1d] informal  an act of defecation. [the sense in take a dump]

(For what it’s worth, I’m also famiiar with a noun sense of dump as the product of defecation, that is ‘feces, turd’.)

The senses of the verb dump are not much better. The best is the one in “Just Dump & Bake!”: ‘put (something) down firmly or heavily and carelessly: she dumped her knapsack on the floor’ (NOAD2).

On the product. I turn now to a posting of 8/5/15 in Epicurious, “How to Make Dump Cake That’s Fresher, Tastier — and Just as Easy” by Katherine Sacks, which begins forthrightly:

So many delicious desserts come with beautiful names — ambrosia, ladyfingers, praline. The Dump Cake, an Internet sensation described as “so easy and very yummy,” is not one of them. In fact, it’s just the opposite: “dump cake” is by far the worst name in the history of desserts.

I’m late to the dump cake train, having only recently come across the years-old idea of “dumping” a bunch of pre-made ingredients — usually yellow cake mix and cherry pie filling — into a pan and baking it. And while I didn’t — and still don’t — understand the name, I instantly understood the appeal. People want an easy dessert. And dump cakes are as easy as dessert gets.

So recently, I dug in. Lowering myself into a dump cake wormhole on Pinterest, I found cakes made with everything from orange soda and white cake mix to chocolate cake, cherry cobbler filling, and Dr. Pepper. When I found a recipe that sounded good to me, I made it. And after a few weeks of this, I came to a conclusion:

Dump cakes deserve better.

A dump cake should yield consistent results (they usually don’t) and use real ingredients (they never do).

Sacks goes on to make a homemade dump cake with peaches, blueberries, and pecans:


The quick-and-easy part of the project is creating your own homemade cake mix:

A quick whisking together of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt did the trick, forming a cake mix that works interchangeably with the boxed stuff, whether for dump cakes, birthday cakes, or cupcakes. Make it ahead of time, put it in a jar or bag, and keep it around for the next time you want to make any cake, dump or no.

All the rest is assembling the key central ingredients, just as in the commercial Dump Cakes approach. And using some butter. And shaking the pan during cooking. No soda pop is involved, by the way.

And you can dump the name, if you’d like. Sacks suggests thinking of things like #2 as homemade shake-‘n-bake cakes.

2 Responses to “A regrettable food name”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Of course, we all know where the Pink Panther takes his garbage: the dump, the dump, the dump the dump the dump the dump the DUMP

    And the the Lone Ranger:
    to the dump to the dump to the dumpdumpdump….

  2. Kim Darnell Says:

    “Dump cake” seems structurally and semantically parallel to “drop biscuit,” the latter of which goes back to the 1850s. Dump cake is basically a type of cobbler, and there are other somewhat unpalatably named cobbleresque things, including grumps, grunts, and slumps.

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