Yesterday was my son’s birthday, and I baked him a cake, as I have almost always done for both of my children, because no matter how old they are, there are some traditions we three cling to tenaciously. A favorite meal, mostly home cooked, with chocolate cake for dessert, is de rigueur for the special day. This year we are celebrating a week late, so I decided to surprise my son with a treat from the distant past on his real birthday, knowing full well that I will probably still have to bake the chocolate cake next week. I really don’t mind because in truth I have a sweet tooth, and I love cake as much as my grown up children do!
This recipe is another from my late neighbor Sally, handed on to her by her mother-in-law. She lived in the Midwest and visited infrequently, but I did meet her once or twice. I do not recall our conversations, but I do remember her as a friendly and confident middle-aged lady. She must have been an accomplished baker, because I have more than one of her recipes, courtesy of Sally. Despite not being labeled as to ownership, they are unmistakable. Sally’s neat, blocky printing was distinctive. I kept all these cards intact, many of them yellowing and spattered with ingredients, not knowing when Sally gave them to me how precious they would become so short a time later.
I clearly remember one birthday when I served the banana cake, along with peanut butter and honey sandwiches on whole wheat bread, carrot and pepper sticks, and apple juice. My mom, who had come to celebrate her four-year-old grandson’s big day and to help me manage the guests, was taken aback by the menu. She shook her head, and asked if I thought the kids would really eat this stuff. Wouldn’t they want pizza, or hot dogs, or burgers and chips? I assured her that all would be well. And it was. The little partygoers dutifully ate their whole wheat sandwiches (no peanut allergies, thank goodness) and munched their veggies. “Suburban Kids,”my mom remarked afterwards, in a tone implying that no self-respecting city child like the ones she raised would stand for my idea of a birthday party lunch. Of course, like all kids, my suburban guests were most enthusiastic when they got their cake with a generous serving of ice cream on the side.
3/4 cup of sour milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of shortening, 1 beaten egg, 1 tsp of baking soda, 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, 1/8 tsp of salt, 2 ripe mashed bananas , and 1 tsp of vanilla.
Sour the milk by pouring about 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and adding enough milk to reach the 3/4 mark. Cream shortening and sugar well in a large bowl. Beat in the egg. Combine the baking soda with the sour milk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed shortening mixture alternating with the sour milk. Add vanilla to the bananas and fold into the mix, stirring until well combined.
Pour into an 8 or 9 inch square pan and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the middle springs back to the touch. Cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, invert onto a cooling rack, and wait until the cake is room temperature before frosting. You may want to omit the frosting altogether and just cut the cake into snacking squares.
I find that a basic butter and cream cheese frosting goes really well with this cake. For enough to frost the top, beat together 1/4 cup of softened unsalted butter, 1/4 cup of softened regular cream cheese and 1 tsp of vanilla. Then beat in powdered sugar beginning with 1/2 cup and adding more until the frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency – usually another cup or so.