Despite bananas being cultivated in South East Asia for at least five thousand years as well as being known in the Middle East since the 10th century and imported into Europe in limited quantities in the 15th century and into the Americas in the 16th century via Africa (the word “banana” is apparently a Wolof term and we acquired it via the Portuguese) , it seems incredible to me that the earliest recorded instance of banana being used in a baked good in the Western food canon dates to 1933 when flour giant Pillsbury produced a cookbook titled “Balanced Recipes”.
Legend has it that in the Great Depression, grocers were desperate to get rid of over-ripe bananas and sold them off cheap, which lead to housewives contriving all sorts of recipes to use up the nutritious fruit. The popularisation of baking powder at roughly the same time was a natural lead in to turning bananas into cakes, and the rest is history. Mind you, although I can find actual copies of the cookbook for sale, I can’t seem to lay my hands on the original recipe – so if anyone out there has it, I’d be ever so grateful if you could post it here.
Anyhow, here is the recipe I’ve always used. If, like me, you stash your sad bananas in the freezer until inspiration hits, this recipe is perfect!
You will need:
- 125 grams of butter
- ¾ cup of caster sugar
- 1 egg (beaten)
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla essence
- 2 VERY ripe bananas (mashed)
- 1 ½ cups of self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
- ¼ cup of milk
Cream the butter and sugar until very fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and bananas and mix. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the mix, and add the milk. Mix until just combined and pour into a greased pan. Bake at 180C for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. A bundt tin is perfect for this recipe but a regular round tin will do just as well.
For the icing, mix the juice of half a lime or a lemon (passionfruit is good too) with 1 cup of icing mixture, adding a teaspoon of hot water at a time until the mixture is smooth and very thick. Carefully pour over the cake. Top with grated zest. Devour!