On the weekend my mum was not well and, between looking after her, my dad managed to visit us to help repair our outdoor table. (We don’t have his range of tools.) He also gave us some good ideas about our new compost bin. He had been so busy looking after others that he didn’t seem to have given much thought to food.
Both my mum and my dad are great with their advice, always ready to offer a sympathetic ear, and on our doorsteps to help in moments of need. We are lucky. My dad is a whiz with the power drill but it is my mum who is the head cook and bottlewasher. I grew up with her always stirring, kneading, cooking, roasting, frying, baking. She regularly produced roast dinners, corned beef, lamb cutlets, quince jelly, tomato sauce, wholemeal bread, apple sponge pudding, pavlova, cream filled sponge cakes, ginger biscuits. Good traditional Australian tucker.
We usually had bananas around the house. When they were barely ripe we would slice them up and eat them in soft white bread sandwiches with sugar sprinkled on them and plenty of butter. I'd help my mum mash them up and feed them to my baby brothers and sisters. We would eat them plain, or sometimes in pancakes or on top of caramel tart. And when the bananas in the brass fruit bowl started going soft and black, my mum made banana bread.
I learnt so much about cooking from my mum and continue to do so. When I visit, I often find her in the kitchen. We regularly swap notes about our latest cooking adventures. When my mum is sick, the kitchen is quiet. You might hear the ping of the microwave but it lacks the bustle and warmth that my mum brings to the heart of the house. So I was pleased to be able to offer dad some homemade bread with cheese and a piece of cake. I even sent him away with some for mum. It is nice to be able to return just a little of the comfort and support I have been given over the years.
I almost didn’t make the cake. But I am very grateful to Not Quite Nigella for inspiring me to do so with her banana bread bake-off. She asked for a plain banana bread. We’ve always called it cake but it is simple and honest enough to be called ‘banana bread’ – none of the pretensions that might characterise a cake. I immediately thought of my favourite chocolate banana cake but when I stumbled across my mum’s recipe I didn’t bother looking any further.
This is a cake I ate often as a child and made many times as an adult. It beckoned me with its simplicity. It was no surprise to find it was the first recipe I ever wrote down in my sweet recipe notebook – almost 20 years ago. (The next recipe was mum’s chocolate cake.) Since then I have discovered all sorts of yummy extras - walnuts, sultanas, lemon, blueberries, chocolate, lime, cranberries, and coconut - but sometimes you just want the real thing without distractions. And E was delighted to have me baking plain cake.
Like most banana cakes it has those little black specks that look like ants. In fact once I found a banana cake that I was cooling on the bench was indeed covered in ants. I was most displeased to have to put it straight into the bin. Not easy when it smells so good coming out of the oven.
My dad’s timing was impeccable. He arrived just before my oven timer rang. By the time he had worked his magic with the power drill in the backyard, the cake was ready. It tasted lovely with butter melting into the warm, soft crumb, accompanied by a cuppa tea.
Mum’s Banana Cake
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp vanilla essence
1 ½ cups self raising flour
3 bananas, mashed
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tbsp milk
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat well. Stir in alternate portions of flour and banana. Dissolve bicarb in milk and stir into mixture until combined. Pour into a greased and lined loaf tin. Bake in moderate oven (180 C, 350 F) approximately one hour (I put mine on the lower shelf for the last 20 minutes as it was getting a bit brown, so it could possibly even do with a little less time). The cake is cooked when a skewer comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack to clean.
On the Stereo:
…where tattered clouds are stranding (dedicated to the art of Icelandic sculptor and painter Einar Jonsson, 1874-1954) – Various Artists