Even the recipe for upside-down cake is upside-down - it begins with the topping. Sugar is sprinkled over melted butter in the pan bottom, then fruit is decoratively arranged over it. Finally, the batter is spooned on top. In the oven, the butter, sugar and fruit juices bake into caramel. When done, the hot cake is inverted so the pretty glazed fruit becomes the top. Pineapple is traditional for American upside-down cake; our version is prepared with pears.
Like bananas, pears are one of the few fruits picked before they are ripe. Unlike most fruit, both fruits improve in both texture and flavor after harvest. Choose pears without blemishes or soft spots, and store them at room temperature. Pears are best when they are ripe but still a bit firm.
Cornmeal adds rich flavor, and gives this cake a moist, dense texture.