I was going to be writing about Easter this week, but my 94-year-old mother, Betty, ended up in the hospital. She had caught an infection, and at 94, it doesn’t take much for her to go downhill quickly. Doctors, tests, more doctors, MRI, CAT scan, more doctors. She also has dementia, which made all of this that much more difficult for her.
So I came home yesterday, after a long week of going to the hospital. I needed a little break so I made the one thing that my Mom made really well.
My Mom’s banana cake (NOT banana bread) is the best. When someones asks me, what food do you recall the most from childhood, it is this banana cake.
Now, my Mom was not the best cook. Full disclosure. She overcooked just about everything. She grew up in the Midwest during the Great Depression. They were poor (who wasn’t) and they HAD to cook, had to can, had to have a garden. It wasn’t optional, that was how you survived. Her grandfather was the local blacksmith and would often take vegetables or a live chicken in exchange for his services. Meat was a luxury.
Fast forward to 1942. My Mom met my Dad, Bill, who was in the Coast Guard. After a super short courtship, they were married in April. Dad was stationed in Cape May NJ. They had a little apartment, and Mom would cook in a tiny kitchen. My Dad had a great story of Mom cooking a sirloin steak. (Remember the no-meat childhood here). He splurged and bought a steak from the butcher, then had to go to the Coast Guard station. When he came home, Mom was beating the everlovin’ daylights out of that steak. Pounding away at it. Dad shouted “Betty,stop! What are you doing?” And she said “Tenderizing it”. You see, my Mom had never, ever eaten or cooked a sirloin steak before. They only ever had the tough cheap cuts of beef, and that was how you cooked it.
My Dad was sent overseas, was in the Normandy Invasion and fortunately, made it home. He got a job, and Mom was your typical 50’s house wife. But now, there were convenience foods. And my Mom loved them. Canned soup, frozen vegetables, TV dinners. We used to joke that there was a shrine to Clarence Birdseye in the basement by the gigantic chest freezer. When Mom was making dinner, she would tell me “go down to the freezer and pick out a vegetable for dinner”. Yup. Not kidding.
And she never baked. Ever. I never had a homemade birthday cake. She would order them at the bakery. Pies for the holidays came from there as well. Need cupcakes for school? Bakery again.
Except for the banana cake.It was a recipe that she had from her childhood. The story was that a little old Polish lady made it, and gave her the recipe. And it was the one thing, the only thing, that she would make from scratch. Whenever we had over-ripe bananas, she would make it. My Dad and I both loved it. And my family loves it just as much.
So after a rough week, wondering if I was going to lose her, I made it. It is more than just banana cake, it is a symbol of my Mom, who kept one little food legacy going.
She is getting released today from the hospital to go back to the nursing home. So we made it through. And I’m going to bring her a piece of banana cake.
I am sharing the banana cake recipe here. Which is a big deal, since I would only give it out to those I deemed worthy. But recipes tell a story, and I hope that you will make this and love it, and think of Betty. Enjoy.
Betty’s Banana Cake
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 TBS sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup banana pulp (two bananas)
IMPORTANT! For the bananas, let them get ripe to the point of a totally black skin. Really squishy. Put them in a container and mash with a fork. Let them sit in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. You will see the banana oil come out, which is key to keeping the cake moist. You can also freeze the banana pulp and use later.
- Cream shortening into sugar, then add slightly beaten eggs.
- In a separate bowl,take the sour cream and add the baking soda, stir. It will get bubbly and fluffy.
- Combine the sour cream, bananas, salt and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour, and beat until combined. The batter will be wet and thick, but should not be stiff.
- Pour into two greased 9 x 5 loaf pans. Fill each one about halfway.
- Bake in a 350 oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack in the pans. Remove when cool and eat!