I rarely bake, as I’ve said before, but four sorrowful and browning bananas were looking at me from a fruit bowl and I felt I should do something with them. I don’t like eating very ripe bananas and back in the day when I was a young mum and my kids were coming home from school hungry, I often baked this tea loaf when bananas I’d bought for the family were getting a little too ripe and needed using up quickly. I was never one for baking cakes as such, but this loaf was a regular favourite. I always used Katie Stewart’s recipe.
Katie Stewart was queen of the kitchen long before even Delia and most certainly before Nigella. In fact, when I was first married we lived by Katie Stewart. At the time she wrote a column in The Times and the magazine, Woman’s Journal. I still have all the books on my shelf – well worn – and some of the recipes torn from Woman’s Journal in a file. There’s a particularly wonderful couscous recipe, with chickpeas and caramelised onions, that I once cooked often and my son asked me for the recipe only a short time ago. Getting out this book today and cooking the banana loaf, I decided to Google Katie and find out where she is now … only to sadly discover that this great cookery writer died just days ago on 13 January, aged 78. It was rather a poignant moment, I have to say, having turned to this favourite recipe that I hadn’t done for ages, but which I’d been using since 1990, and then discovering the wonderful author had died. However, in homage to the great Katie, here is the recipe. Though I have to confess rather adapted to what was in my kitchen cupboards. No wholemeal flour but some Sharpham Park Organic Spelt White Flour (about which I’ve raved before); no sultanas but raisins; and using the alternative nut suggested to the original pecan – walnut. Neither did I have any muscavado sugar so I’m afraid it was caster – but at least organic and unrefined. But adaptation is the name of the game in the kitchen a lot of the time, and it all worked just fine.
Heat the oven to 180C/160 Fan. Line a small bread tin with a strip of baking parchment along the base and grease the sides with butter.
Sift 225g flour (see above) into a large bowl with 2 teaspoons baking powder. Add 100g softened butter in pieces and then rub together as if making pastry or crumble topping. Add 100g muscavado or unrefined caster sugar and 50g raisins or sultanas. Add 50g walnuts or pecan nuts – reserving 4 to place on the top of the loaf – breaking them into smallish pieces as you go.
Mash about 3 large (450g with skin on) bananas in a bowl. Add to the mix with 2 eggs. Mix well with a wooden spoon and beat for about 1 minute.
Transfer to the lined baking tin and bake in oven for about 1 hour. I checked mine after 45 minutes but it did take 1 hour. Gosh did it smell good when I went into the kitchen and lifted it out. Leave the loaf in the tin for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.
I let it cool for a while but couldn’t resist cutting a slice while it was still warm and having it with a mug of tea. Well, it was teatime!!
And it was SO good. The bananas give the loaf not only a gorgeous flavour but a nice moistness … and from experience I know that it gets even better after a day, so something to look forward to tomorrow. I guess it would have had a slightly nuttier depth if I’d had the wholemeal flour and muscavado sugar, but it was still every bit as good as I remembered from years ago. I occasionally treat myself to banana bread in my favourite coffee house – Taylor St Baristas Richmond – where they bake it on the premises and serve it toasted with butter. I was a bit unsure the first time they offered to toast it but thought I’d give it a try and found it brings out the flavours even more. So maybe when my loaf is a couple of days old, I’ll give toasting a try.
Meanwhile, how sad that the wonderful Katie Stewart is no longer with us but her classic, reliable and often brilliantly inventive recipes will live on for a long time. Or at least, certainly in my kitchen!