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Hummingbird Cake: a great excuse to let your bananas go brown

J. H. Osborne • May 22, 2020 at 5:58 PM

As I’ve tried to limit my trips to the grocery store to once a week or less, I’ve sometimes miscalculated the amount of certain items to buy. Two come to mind quickly: bananas and canned, crush pineapple. I’ve bought too much of the first and two few of the latter on several shopping trips. I never really realized the crucial role crushed pineapple plays in many of my and Mom’s favorite go-to comfort foods. I don’t have a scientific study, but I’m pretty sure it comes in second to Campbell’s cream of chicken soup.

Bananas? Well, they’re good for you. We’re both supposed to eat them for our health. I guess they’re supposed to replace some of those crushed-pineapple-laced desserts misleadingly labeled as “salads” in most cookbooks. Actually, Mom has been advised by more than one doctor to eat a banana a day. She mostly eats them on cereal. I like them in my oatmeal — or on a sandwich made with white bread and Duke’s.

So a good-sized bunch of slightly green bananas seemed like a smart choice each time I went to the store. And it worked the first couple of times. But by the  third time I brought them home with my weekly stockpile (meant to last two weeks), that bunch ripened and finally turned brown.

It was Easter weekend. I’d planned to make a pistachio cake or a coconut cake. I decided instead to use those brown bananas to make one of our favorites: Hummingbird Cake. Fortunately, our pantry was well-stocked with canned, crushed pineapple. I prefer Dole, packed in its own juice. I also had pecans, but had to make do with imitation vanilla extract that might have been a little out of date. I don’t even know how it ended up in the house.

I’m surprised whenever I hear someone say they’ve never had, or perhaps never heard of, Hummingbird Cake. It’s a delightful concoction that can be found in many church cookbooks across the South. And it’s easy to make, especially if you’ve already got some brown bananas. I’ve had brown bananas twice more since Easter. That means we’ve had Hummingbird Cake twice more, too.

According to a January 2018 article on SouthernLiving.com, by Pam Lolley, a recipe for Hummingbird Cake “was first submitted to Southern Living in 1978 by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina” and folks at the magazine had “no idea the cake would become our most popular and beloved Southern cake recipe ever.”

I’m not sure when I first had Hummingbird Cake. I probably began baking them (after learning just how easy they can be made) about 20 years ago. Mom sometimes prefers Italian Cream Cake. But Hummingbird Cake is always a winner. I’ve not been fortunate enough to ever taste the most famous Hummingbird Cake in our area. For more than 25 years Ruth Chatman of Fall Branch has donated one of her handmade Hummingbird Cakes to the Fall Branch Volunteer Fire Department’s annual benefit auction — and it has sold for as much as $1,000. One of the best I have had came from Kaminsky’s in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m using a picture of their cake here. Mine does NOT look like this, and what I’m sharing below is not their recipe. Nor is it Southern Living’s. Most recipes you’ll find for Hummingbird cake are almost identical. This is my adaptation of one I found years ago in a favored cookbook. It’s one of the things I’d try to grab if the house was on fire. Mom and I both go heavy on cinnamon and vanilla. (We prefer Watkins Pure Vanilla Extract, available at Berry’s Pharmacy).

Cake

3 cups self-rising flour (I use White Lily)

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 heaping cup of undrained, canned, crushed pineapple

1 cup pecans, chopped fine

2 cups of mashed banana (three bananas usually work out as the right amount)

Grease three 8-inch round cake pans and line bottom with waxed paper.

Chop pecans and set aside. Mix cinnamon into flour and sugar in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, mash peeled bananas. Measure pineapple and dump into bowl with bananas. Add vanilla. Add pecans. Stir oil and eggs into flour and cinnamon and beat just until blended. Dump banana, pineapple, vanilla, and pecan mixture into the batter and continue to beat just until blended.

Divide batter into three prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Frosting: Mix 1 pound 10x confectioners’ sugar, one stick (¼ pound) unsalted butter, 8 ounces softened cream cheese, and two teaspoons vanilla. Spread between cooled cake layers, and frost tops and sides of cake.

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