— Dawn Dillard is a proud East Texas gal who loves all things southern especially cooking, music and family. She can be reached via email at

Have you noticed that pretty much everything in life evolves? Oh, I’m not talking about nature, physics, biochemistry or anything like that; I’m talking about things like fashion, haircuts, dances and...birthday cakes!

We just celebrated the 7th birthday of our granddaughter, Judah. She is a hard-core horse lover so I asked Brookshires Bakery in Hallsville if they could make her a cake with green grass and a pond and I would put a few plastic horses on there when I got it home. Let me just tell you...they went above and beyond. I wish I could attach a picture. The grassy pasture looked like real grass. It was amazing and the taste was incredible, also. This made me start thinking about my birthday cakes from the past.

When I was younger, we had some friends who lived in Philadelphia who would always travel each summer to south Texas to see family. They would always stop by our house in Bethany to stay a few hours, sometimes spend the night. Their trips usually fell right around my birthday. Mrs. Joyce would get a “dime store” (the pre-cursor to dollar stores) Barbie-like doll, make three or four layers of cake in round pans, put faux-Barbie in the middle and then decorate the area all around her like it was a huge ball gown. I still remember how beautiful those cakes were.

When I got to be a bit older, however, the “ball gown cakes” didn’t really fit my age, so “Mrs. Joyce” cakes faded in to the sunset. Then came birthday cakes that were made in a 9x13 but the decorations were “hard as bricks” candy letters on a plastic sheet that you would peel off and place on the cake. The “candy” spelled out “Happy Birthday” and had a few extra flower decorations made out of the same “candy-like” substance.

You would have a nice, moist, creamy cake- until you bit in to “hap” or “day” and then you felt like you needed a visit to the dentist because you could swear you broke a tooth.

My favorite birthday cakes, however, come from my mom. She makes a killer pineapple upside down cake; not baked in a 9x13, but baked in one of her old, seasoned cast iron skillets. If you haven’t ever eaten a pineapple upside down cake baked like this, I’ll give you my mom’s number and you can go visit and she can bake you one.

First of all, there’s no cake mix involved—it’s all done from scratch (minus the pineapple, of course.) It cooks to a golden brown and when you flip it out onto a plate...the edges are golden brown and have a slight crispy texture to them.

The cake itself is spongy and the pineapple rings are firm yet easy to cut with a fork. The best time to eat this cake? Not just on my birthday but hot out of the oven, any day of the year. Oh, my Lord, in heaven above. It just doesn’t get any better.

People can make some amazing cakes these days. We went to NYC several years ago and took a bus over to Hoboken and actually ate some sweets at the “Cake Boss” store. Watching Food Network and the cakes people create just amazes me. I make a Mandarin Orange cake that my sweet mother-in-law used to make me for my birthday. (By the way, I get teased by family members- Jim and Tyler- for the way I pronounce the word “mandarin”. I was brought up saying “man-DARE-in”, not “MAN-dah-rin”. Right or wrong pronunciation, they seem to always enjoy eating it.)

Birthday celebrations are fun. Birthday cakes can be even more fun, especially when you customize the cake to the birthday person.

Will Rogers was famous for his line “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Well, I can say this for sure and for certain: decorated like a pasture, dressed up like a ball gown, crunching on candy letters, diving in to one of mom’s pineapple upside down cakes or anything and everything in between-“I never met a cake I didn’t like.”

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— Dawn Dillard is a proud East Texas gal who loves all things southern especially cooking, music and family. She can be reached via email at