Virtual Afternoon Tea, March 2021

Cup of tea and a slice of cake? Image: Su Leslie 2021

Wherever you are, and whatever is happening in your world, Kia ora koutou katoa  (Greetings. Hello to you all)

After our recent see-sawing in and out of lock-down I’ve been feeling the need for a wee celebration cake. And in our household, that means banana cake with (lashings of) coffee buttercream.

Banana cake with coffee buttercream icing. Image: Su Leslie 2021

Do you have a go-to cake (or other sweet treat) that’s your family favourite? What is the story behind it? How does a particular cake cake come to take on the mantle of “celebration”?

In my case, I have my late mother in law, Joy, to thank. My mother didn’t bake banana cake, so my early memories of it are from cake stalls and “ladies a plate” events (see below).

Joy made banana cake for the Big T’s birthdays, and then later for mine. They were unfailingly moist and tasty, had a generous, but not overwhelming, application of coffee-flavoured buttercream, and were often decorated with walnut halves.

First attempt at candied walnuts to top the cake. Image: Su Leslie 2021

For me this is the perfect banana cake, and I’ve never understood why other people’s versions seemed to be coated with anemic and thoroughly unappetizing chocolate icing.

Until last week.

I always bake banana cake from the recipe in the Edmonds Cookery Book — something of a cooking bible in NZ. What I had never noticed before is the last line of the recipe — “When cold ice with Lemon or Chocolate Icing or dust with icing sugar.”

Well, as you can imagine that got me thinking (and quizzing T) about his mother’s coffee buttercream, and about the history of banana cake generally.

Is banana cake a “thing” where you live? If so, what sort of cake is it. Is it iced? Coffee buttercream???

Sorry to bombard you with questions; I really want to know.

My banana cake is basically a butter cake with mashed bananas folded into the mixture. Practically all banana cake recipes in New Zealand are variations on this, and have been for many years. However, one local recipe — from (the delightfully named) Bush Advocate in 1906 — included currents and coconut, while one published in Britain’s Daily Mail published a recipe in 1928, was more of a sponge. In several early recipes from both Australia and New Zealand the banana component is basically sliced banana between layers of cake.

What’s really amazed me about this is a) how old some of the recipes are (1891 in both New Zealand and Australia); and b) how often NZ newspapers printed recipes for banana cake: 136 times between 1891 and 1950, which is the last year for which newspapers are available online through Papers Past.

Image: Su Leslie 2021

But enough of my Musa musings. Pull up a chair, grab a plate and help yourself to some cake.

Tell me what you’ve been up to? What’s happening in your world?  Your comments make blogging so much more interesting.

And if you’d like to contribute a post of your own — even better. Maybe a shot of your cuppa and/or whatever you’re having with it. A recipe if you like.

I’ll update each of my posts with a ping-back to everyone’s in the same way as I do with The Changing Seasons.

#virtualteaparty2021 for anyone on Instagram who wants to post images (or video?)

The term “ladies a plate” was ubiquitous in New Zealand when I was growing up, and referred to the convention that catering for social gatherings involved all of the women bringing food. As a new immigrant to this country, my mother suffered the embarrassment of arriving at her first such gathering carrying — literally — a plate, having assumed that the hosts must be short of crockery.


My lovely co-host Del from CurlsNSkirls has baked soda bread, in honour of St Patrick’s Day. You can find her recipe here.

Pop over to see Margaret at Pyrenees to Pennines for a slice of lemon drizzle cake and a cashew nut butter cookie.

Irene at My Slice of Mexico has baked banana bread and shared her recipe. Please check it out.

Have some chicken pasta salad with Ladyleemanila.

Carrot cake is particularly popular, and Ju-Lyn from Touring My Backyard has not only made one (and posted the recipe), but shares a new perspective on what “carrot cake” means in Singapore.

Deb at The Widow Badass has made some fabulous blueberry lemon oatmeal muffins (with recipe).

Attempting Mrs Oberon’s Cock-a-Hoop Honey Cake

One of my son’s favourite childhood books was Margaret Mahy’s A Busy Day for a Good Grandmother.

The good grandmother is Mrs Oberon, summoned by her son Scrimshaw to deliver one of her cock-a-hoop blue borage honey cakes — the only thing that will pacify his crying, teething baby son.

Her journey — by trailbike, plane, raft and skateboard — involves navigating rapids, and fighting off hungry vultures and alligators.

Arriving to find Scrimshaw at the end of his tether, she not only calms the baby but teaches her son to make his own honey cake.

I was reminded of the book recently by Amanda at Silkannthreades, and began wondering what a cock-a-hoop blue borage honey cake might look (and taste) like.

I did find a recipe, but not only was it missing blue borage honey, but seemed to lack the ingredients one might expect in a teething remedy.

This is my first attempt. It’s flavoured with blue borage honey (naturally), as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and chamomile — to soothe.

It’s ok. The texture is good, but none of the flavours emerge strongly enough and it looks disconcertingly like gingerbread.

Definitely not a six-word post this week — but bookended thus.

So, back to the drawing board.

Posted to Debbie’s Six Word Saturday

Daily Post Photo Challenge: a good match, take 2

A good match: raspberries and chocolate. Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate ganache topping, filled with berries and ganache. Image (and cake): Su Leslie, 2017.

A good match: raspberries and chocolate. Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate ganache topping, filled with berries and ganache. Image (and cake): Su Leslie, 2017.

It was the boy-child’s 19th birthday yesterday, so I made him this chocolate raspberry cake to share with friends and workmates.

I’m not a particularly confident cake-maker, but am told this one went down well.

Close up shot of chocolate cake, with white chocolate ganache topping and raspberries. A good flavour match. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Raspberries and white chocolate, definitely a good match. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Daily Post Photo Challenge | a good match

In praise of the fabulous feijoa

When Tish Farrell (Writer on the Edge — check out her blog if you don’t already know it) commented on my post ‘Summer No More’ that the approach of winter means time for baked stuffed apples, I immediately thought (and replied),  “feijoa and apple crumble.”

I did wonder — knowing that Tish lives in England — whether she’d be familiar with that most deliciously, deceptively unassuming fruit, the feijoa. She wasn’t, and so this post is by way of enlightenment.

When I lived in the UK in the 1990s, feijoas were not only unavailable, but requests for them in fruit shops or supermarkets were met with puzzled looks and the odd suggestion that I must have the name wrong. A Kiwi friend recalls an English workmate insisting that such a fruit did not exist, and that perhaps “feijoa” was just her family’s special name for another, real fruit. “An apple, perhaps”  was apparently his suggestion. Annoyed at being so patronised, she drove half way around the M25 to borrow a New Zealand recipe book from me, which she took to her workplace to demonstrate the reality of feijoas to her colleague.

Feijoa, or Acca sellowiana is a species of flowering plant in the myrtle family, native to South America (Wikipedia). I’m not sure how or when it was introduced to New Zealand, but it grows extremely well here and is widely planted in domestic gardens. Growing up, everyone seemed to either have a feijoa tree, or knew people who did, so that during the months March to June buckets of the fruit could be found in every pantry.

Feijoas; creamy flesh inside firm bitter green shells. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Feijoas; creamy flesh inside firm bitter green shells. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Feijoas seem to be one of those things that people either absolutely love or totally hate (like Marmite and Vegemite). My mother loathes them — likening the smell of the uncut fruit to wintergreen (methyl salicylate). Because of this, she tended to discourage neighbours’ donations of the fruit, so my brothers and I compensated by scrounging them from every source possible. One consequence of this was that we always ate ours raw, scooping the sweet creamy flesh straight from its slightly bitter green shell. It is only as an adult that I’ve discovered the pleasure of cooking with feijoas.

The first house I bought had a huge and prolific feijoa tree in the back yard. A Kiwi friend who has lived in Edinburgh for over 30 years visited one afternoon and we (literally) sat under the tree and gorged ourselves.

It’s only since we returned to NZ in 2000 that I’ve noticed feijoas for sale in shops. Before that, it seemed to be very much a home grown or donated fruit — although sometimes enterprising small children would set up roadside stalls selling what was probably grandma’s (hopefully excess) harvest.

This season, feijoas seem to have become — in culinary circles — the new black. Last weekend, I saw feijoa cake in a couple of cafes, the host at the B&B where we stayed baked us a feijoa cake as a welcome, we had the fresh fruit at breakfast and feijoa jam for our croissants. Since then I’ve found a plethora of recipes for cakes, muffins, crumbles, jams, chutneys and cordials, and while I don’t have any feijoas growing in my garden, they are ridiculously cheap at the local fruit shop so I decided to have a go at making a feijoa cake this afternoon.

I’m experimenting with dairy and gluten-free baking at the moment, and I’ve found a local (Auckland-based) food writer, Eleanor Ozich, whose book My Petite Kitchen Cookbook, has lots of useful recipes. One I’m particularly fond of is an orange almond cake; which I modified by using feijoa pulp in place of the oranges. The cake uses almond meal instead of regular flour, and is sweetened with a couple of spoonfuls of honey. I added the zest of a lime for a bit of extra zing, and (I must confess) did mix some icing sugar and lime juice to create a drizzle icing on top. But compared to my usual slathering of buttercream frosting on cakes, I feel I’ve been quite restrained.

Feijoa-almond cake, with lime drizzle icing. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

Feijoa-almond cake, with lime drizzle icing. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015.

The result doesn’t look as glamourous as the cafe cakes, but the Big T assures me it tastes great.

If anyone is interested in the recipe, I’m happy to bake another cake (purely for research purposes) with a bit more attention to quantities and technique, so that I can actually generate a recipe.

Meanwhile, I’m off to try a slice (purely for research purposes, naturally).