October 31, 2016
I am not sure why I got up this morning with Grandma on my mind. Maybe it’s because it’s beginning to get dark earlier and earlier and the shorter days remind me of a story she told me about getting the first electric lights in her house.
Ever since I can remember, Grandma was old. My mom was second to the youngest of Grandma’s kids, and I am the baby of my generation, so it makes sense that I only knew her later in her life.
Grandma was a steel magnolia in every respect. She delivered all eight of her children at home and never once was hospitalized until she was 89 years old. She had a perfect memory, and it was like going back in time to talk with her. She remembered all the major events like the wars as well as other historical events such as when the first automobile came on the scene. She also spoke of the first electricity that came to the little town where she lived. She said back in the day the electric company ran an electric line to a pole in the front yard. The pole had a light on it. She was enchanted with the light and excited about this new invention. She said the light never went off and that was okay except that the chickens wouldn’t roost. She said they clucked at that light pole for three days and nights and there were no eggs to be had. The chicken coop was in a shambles, and the chickens were disheveled and disoriented searching for darkness. She said the constant clucking kept the whole house up. In the end, the light won out and the chickens adjusted. I guess Grandma and Grandpa probably ate the chicks that didn’t comply, but Grandma never confirmed this.
Grandma never once cut her hair. She told me this one day when I stopped by to see her on the way to getting my own haircut. She said it matter-of-factly like it never occurred to her to cut her hair. I mentioned this lack of hair cutting information to my cousin one day, and she said that indeed Grandma did get a haircut once as a child but never after that. Who to believe—I am not sure it even matters—the thing is, Grandma’s hair wasn’t that long. It only came down a little past her shoulder blades.
Grandma had one hairstyle that she did every morning without a mirror. She took sections of hair on each side of her head, twisted them into long ropes, and twirled them into an elaborate bun on the back of her head. She would only look in the mirror at the end to make sure she didn’t miss any stray strands, and she never missed any. Amazingly, her hair always had straight, perfect parts even though she didn’t use a mirror. Once, when she was hospitalized, and I was elected to help her do something with “this mess of a head” as she put it. Grandma didn't realize that I can't fix hair but I did my best. I braided her hair into what I thought was a beautiful braid fit for a queen. The next day when I came to the hospital to visit, she announced that her head was sore. It seems that once you have been wearing a certain style for so many years, changing it makes your head sore.
Here are a couple of photos of Grandma. One before my time and the one I took several years ago. Some hairstyles are always in vogue no matter the year. I hope I take after Grandma and don’t get any wrinkles.
Grandma used to make a banana cake that defied gravity. She baked two vanilla square layer cakes, frosted them with a thin frosting, then covered the whole cake with thin banana slices sliced the long way. Those banana slices never once attempted to slide off that cake. It was fascinating to see them stay put because we all know bananas like to slide.
The cake is vanilla and it is a somewhat firm cake that is just perfect for layering and soaking up all manner of goodness. I am using a thin vanilla icing but a nice rum icing would work, and so would chocolate gravy (see prior post for the chocolate gravy recipe). Chocolate gravy isn’t all that thin but it soaks into cakes and biscuits quite well. I also think this cake would soak up a melting scoop of any favorite ice cream for a lovely treat on a late summer afternoon.
Here’s the recipe:
Grandma’s Banana Cake (The cake part of the recipe.)
Preheat the oven to 350o F.
2-1/2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1-1/2 Cups Sugar
½ Cup solid shortening (You could use butter here but, keep in mind that both are saturated fats and the solid shortening seems to work a tiny bit better for this cake.)
1 Cup Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla (I used vanilla paste.)
2 Cups Sifted Powdered Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla (I used vanilla paste.)
½ Cup Evaporated Milk
4 -5 Ripe Bananas (More if you can’t slice them thinly.)
Preheat the oven to 350o F.
Line two 8 x 8 inch square cake pans with parchment and spray with non-stick spray. You can use round pans if you want but, it won’t be like Grandma’s.
Melt the shortening in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for about 80 – 90 seconds—just until it is melted.
Add the 1-1/2 cups sugar and beat the mixture with an electric mixer. I have a big fancy stand mixer but I don’t see the need to do all that washing up so I am using my hand-held mixer today.
Don’t panic if the shortening and sugar looks a bit grainy. The shortening is cooling off and not melting the sugar entirely. The sugar will succumb to melting when you add the milk, eggs and vanilla, which is the next step.
Add the 1 cup of milk, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp. of vanilla to the grainy shortening-sugar mixture and continue to beat until the sugar melts—about a minute or so.
Here’s what it looks like just before you add the flour:
Add the 2-1/2 cups self-rising flour and mix together until blended and fluffy.
Once you are sure everything is mixed well and not clumped at the bottom of the bowl, pour this lovely, fluffy mixture evenly (it doesn’t have to be perfect) into your two square baking pans. I think I did great at getting the batter evenly distributed!
Bake in a 350o F oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Here’s what they look like when they are done. I used my meat thermometer stem as a cake tester to be sure they were done. Chefs around the world are cringing right now.
Let’s always remember our important safety rule when dealing with anything hot—always use pot holders. As you can see, mine show lots of use.
The good thing about layering cakes is that if one layer isn’t pretty, it can go on the bottom. This will let the pretty one shine and make you look good too. I let them cool on the counter and then put them in the refrigerator to make sure they were super firm before I removed them from the pan and began the icing and banana layering process.
Here’s what they look like when removed from the pan. I used a square platter because I am not sure a square cake would look okay on a round cake stand. I also turned the ugly layer upside down because I just couldn’t deal with than sunken attitude.
Now it’s time to ice these layers and put the sliced bananas all around. I found out that this step is easier said than done. I don’t like to put my hands in my food so this part is particularly challenging.
The icing is easy, just throw the 2 cups sifted powdered sugar, tsp. of vanilla, and ½ cup of milk into a bowl and whisk. I didn’t feel like washing my mixer beaters so I used a whisk.
The icing is quite runny and there was discussion with family on whether Grandma iced the cake before putting the banana slices on or put the banana slices on and then iced it. I think she iced it first and used the icing as glue to hold the banana slices in place. There was also talk among family on how she kept the banana slices from turning dark. We discussed that she might have a lemon on hand but probably not. Anyway, just in case she did have a lemon on hand, I tried dipping the slices of banana in a lemon-water bath. It was a disaster for a couple of reasons. The banana slices are fragile and don’t take kindly to being jostled about in lemon-water falling apart in protest and secondly, they become super slick once dipped in the lemon-water. I lost a couple of slices to the floor. So, I don’t think she dipped them.
Pouring this icing on the cakes can be a messy affair. It would probably be a good idea to transfer the icing to measuring cup to pour it more evenly but I didn’t do that. Either way you pour it, it pools around the cake which comes in handy as glue to hold the banana slices in place.
Slice the bananas lengthwise. Okay, I tried to be chef-like and slice them using my cutting board and a large knife. Then, I remembered Grandma holding the bananas in her hand and using a small knife to cut along the shape of the banana. She made it look so easy. I was unable to get my slices as thin and perfect as Grandma’s.
Place the banana slices all around the cake and hope for the best. Isn't it beautiful!
Okay, I am going to come clean. My banana cake was not gravity defying like Grandma’s. Here’s a photo about 5 minutes after I took the one above.
It’s not an easy cake to slice due to the falling bananas. I used a serrated knife.
It may not be gravity defying like Grandma’s but it tastes glorious. Here’s to you, Grandma!