How a Buttermilk Cake From Oklahoma Won the 1955 World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers

A culinary tale from the dugout.

March 31, 2023
Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I first took this buttermilk cake out of the oven; visually, there’s very little to distinguish it from an average pound cake. But there’s more to this dessert than meets the eye.

I unexpectedly came across a version of this recipe in Tales From the Dodger Dugout, a book written by former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine that’s full of colorful anecdotes from his 12 years with the team. As a baseball fan who also happens to be a professional chef, one story stood out: how an unassuming buttermilk cake from Oklahoma became the team’s good luck charm during their unforgettable 1955 championship season.

Sharp and witty at 96 years old, Erskine is one of only two living players from the Dodgers’ 1955 World Series-winning roster. His book offers a glimpse of what it was like to play alongside Jackie Robinson for a beloved team—remembered by fans as the “Boys of Summer”—that personified the borough of Brooklyn by way of their diversity, grit, and perseverance. I recently had the chance to speak with Erskine, who explained that the buttermilk cake first appeared as a gift in the mail, sent by teammate Frank Kellert’s family in Oklahoma. The story goes that the team snacked on the cake for a few days in a row, winning each game during that stretch of time. When the cake ran out, the Dodgers went on a losing streak. Superstition has long played a role in Major League Baseball, so Kellert was asked to request more cake, and it soon became a fixture in the clubhouse.

“It seemed like that buttermilk cake was some kind of magic for us, to keep winning,” Erskine said. “They sent cakes in for the rest of that season. I couldn’t tell you how many different cakes came in, but there were more than just a few. It became a very big superstition. We didn’t want to go into the World Series without a supply of buttermilk cake.”

Equipped with ample amounts of their good luck charm, the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the 1955 World Series—the team’s first-ever championship, and their only one in Brooklyn before permanently moving to Los Angeles in 1958. “Those Brooklyn Dodger teams of that era are one of the most storied teams in the history of baseball,” legendary sportscaster Bob Costas told me. “That team had come so close so many times, with near misses against the Yankees (always the Yankees) in the World Series, and finally in ‘55 they break through. So did the buttermilk cake really help them do it? There are a lot of superstitions in baseball—I'd never heard of that one, but if it worked, then it was a good idea.”

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Top Comment:
“I just read the story to my baseball loving husband who can no longer read due to macular degeneration but remembers all SORTS of baseball history & stats. He loved it! He’s a pie guy, in fact was born on Pi Day, but he’ll be getting a buttermilk cake soon to see if it helps the Seattle Mariners. Very fun! Thanks so much. ”
— cantate

Luckily, the cake is more than just a fun anecdote; it’s utterly delicious, too. The aromas of vanilla and buttery pecan fill the air as it bakes in the oven. That first warm taste is perfectly sweet (but not overly so) and nutty, with a subtle tang that invites bite after bite. A crisp exterior gives way to a light, yet tender interior that remains moist even days later. Whether you’re slathering a slice with softened butter and a pinch of Maldon salt or toasting it under the broiler and serving it with a dollop of whipped cream and berries, you can easily snack on this cake for a week straight and never grow tired of it.

“The buttermilk cake was the single most important food item that had anything to do with our success,” Erskine said. “It was symbolic of winning. It’s a strange way to have it happen, but it did happen.”

Do you have a recipe that’s a good luck charm? Tell us in the comments below!
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Josh Cohen

Written by: Josh Cohen

Born and raised in Brooklyn, I’m perpetually inspired by the diversity of foods that exist in this city. I love shopping at the farmer’s market, making ingredients taste like the best versions of themselves, and rolling fresh pasta. I learned how to make fresh pasta in Italy, where I spent the first 6 months of my career as a chef. I've been cooking professionally in New York City since 2010.


Jim R. July 18, 2023
Hi Josh,

Love the article! I was searching for old newspaper articles about my family stumbled upon your story. This is about my grandmother and her cakes. Still have the hand-written recipe card and an autographed ball from game 7 of the World Series. The true story is much more fascinating (and factually accurate)! I’m attempting to reach out to Erskine and his family, since I now see this was documented incorrectly in his book. Thank you for writing the article. My father has dementia, but distinctly remember everything about that time in his life. I cried as I read it to him. It was very special.
Josh C. July 19, 2023
Hi Jim, can you tell me more about your grandmother? I'm curious to hear how your account differs from what Carl Erskine wrote in his book.

If you don't feel comfortable posting the details here, please send me a direct message on Instagram and we can connect that way - my handle is @joshuabkchef
Jim R. July 22, 2023
Will do!
Joan S. May 1, 2023
What a wonderful, fun story to this recipe!
cantate April 30, 2023
I just read the story to my baseball loving husband who can no longer read due to macular degeneration but remembers all SORTS of baseball history & stats. He loved it! He’s a pie guy, in fact was born on Pi Day, but he’ll be getting a buttermilk cake soon to see if it helps the Seattle Mariners. Very fun! Thanks so much.
MilletteofSd April 29, 2023
So very interesting, Thank you yo Josh (author). I haven’t recreated the recipe;however, interested in feedback on texture, flavor, baking notes,
Chris M. April 29, 2023
Superb article (+recipe!). Well done, Josh. Loved hearing about the history behind the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers' good luck charm.
Beth April 29, 2023
My father grew up watching his beloved Dodgers from his apartment house rooftop. When his boys moved to LA, he soon followed with my Mom and Brother in tow. He’d have loved this!
mgac April 29, 2023
Sounds lovely!! I'm going to make it as soon as I get buttermilk. Some people I share my baked goods with are not pecan fans. Is it possible to substitute with other nuts or will that change the taste significantly?
Josh C. April 30, 2023
Macadamia nuts could be a nice substitute. You could also try walnuts, but they won't taste quite as sweet.
mgac May 1, 2023
Yes, macadamia nuts would be great with the vanilla. Thanks. How about pistachios?
Josh C. May 1, 2023
Pistachios would also work really well!
Jane April 29, 2023
My brothers would climb up on the roof of my aunt's house to watch the Dodger games at Ebbets Field. I'm going to make this cake today!
Dan April 3, 2023
I plan to make this today. 4 tablespoons of vanilla? More than I've used in a recipe before and just want to be sure.
Josh C. April 3, 2023
That's the correct amount of vanilla. It's a very large cake =)
I’m making a decent compensation from home k $60k/week , which was astonishing under a year prior I was jobless in a horrendous economy. I k was honored with these guidelines and presently it’s my obligation to show kindness and share it with Everyone,
𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗦𝗲𝗲 𝗠𝘆 𝗡𝗮𝗺𝗲 𝗖𝗵𝗲𝗰𝗸 𝗩𝗶𝘀𝗶𝘁𝗲,
Krazdale April 1, 2023
Cake and baseball! What could possibly be better? Loved the article!
Carolyn R. March 31, 2023
What a sweet story for the week the 2023 baseball season begins. The cake looks delicious and I can't wait to try it. Thanks for helping preserve a bit of baseball lore -- the game will never lose its magic.
Bar49 March 31, 2023
I love a good story about the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers Boys of Summer, as well as a good cake recipe. This sweet treat of an article gave us both. Thank you!