Their chief food was roasted bread-fruit, yams, coconuts, baked pig, mammee-apples, tappa rolls and bananas, washed down with calabashes of poe-poe; but you never exactly knew whether there would be a real meal or just make-believe, it all depended upon Peter's whim. He could eat, really eat, if it was part of a game, but he could not stodge just to feel stodgy, which is what most children like better than anything else; the next best thing being to talk about it.
Peter and Wendy, J. M. Barrie, The Home Under the Ground
This story is one of my old favourites. Alongside The Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons, it introduced me to the idea that children had the potential to live away from adults and fend for themselves - something that was endlessly appealing. I grew up with four parents and, while they are all terrific, they are so prolific in number that my sister Luce and I didn't spend much time on our own.
In fact, I didn't move out of home until I was 21. My arrival in London, and my first flatshare, certainly brought the whole 'independent living' dream crashing down around me. Rent, bills, the absence of someone to leave my supper on the stove if I'd had a long day - it wasn't something I took to immediately. That said, what I did rather enjoy was the homemaker aspect. Much like Wendy Darling, I relish time spent making my house nice and ensuring the people in it are fed, warm and happy. I certainly like the idea of adventuring and exploring too (no reason not to do both), but I'd be very happy spending some time turning the tropical fruits in the quote above into something delicious. Imaginary food is all well and good, but let's be fair - it is hard to beat a cake.
For these children from Edwardian London, who dreamed of fighting pirates and swimming with mermaids, the coconuts and bananas on the (tropical, surely) island of Neverland must have seemed like a wonderful dream. They're very accessible ingredients in contemporary London and, for me, they are old friends in the kitchen - flavours I am familiar with, and enjoy pairing together. Whenever I think of coconuts, this song immediately pops into my head, so I added some lime too. I trust the Darling children will be able to find one somewhere in Neverland.
ps. This week I am thrilled to let you know that one of my recipes has been featured on Food52. Check it out for my musings on Virginia Woolf and sole.
Banana, Lime and Coconut Cake
225g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
150g caster sugar
190g melted butter
275g plain flour
3tsp baking powder
400g icing sugar
Juice of two limes
150g coconut chips
Knife and chopping board
15cm loose-bottomed cake tin
Electric hand whisk
1. Place the sugar and water for the bananas in the saucepan. Melt over a medium heat, until bubbling. Don't stir while this is happening - you can swirl the pan occasionally if you need to. Allow the caramel to bubble away until it is a dark golden brown. Do keep an eye on it, as it will colour very quickly.
2. While the caramel is bubbling, chop the banana into 5mm thick rounds. Once the caramel is ready, turn the heat down to low and add the butter and stir with a wooden spoon (the mixture will bubble up, so be careful). Add the banana and stir again, then tip in the vanilla and cinnamon. Stir over a low heat for around five minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3. Grease and line a 15cm round cake tin, and preheat the oven to 170C. Melt the butter for the cake in a small saucepan. Allow it to cool and then, in the mixing bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until smooth and light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
4. Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder together and fold into the mixture. Fold the cooled banana mixture in too. Pour the cake batter into the lined tin and transfer to the oven. Cook for an hour, or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the ten for ten minutes, and then tip the cake out and cool on a wire rack until stone cold.
5. To make the icing, beat the butter until very light and almost white in colour. Fold half the icing sugar in with the spatula, just to prevent it going everywhere when you turn on the hand whisk. Beat it into the butter, then add the second half in stages. Add the lime juice and beat on a high speed for at least five minutes. The icing should be light and aerated.
6. Use the bread knife to slice the cake into three even layers - use a ruler if you're fussy. If your cake has domed, you may want to even off the top a little.
7. Make a cross in the top of the icing, dividing it roughly into four. Spread one part over the bottom layer of the cake, then top with the second layer and another portion of icing. Finally, place the last piece of cake on top. Spread large blobs of icing around the sides of the cake. With a wet palette knife, lightly smooth the icing out, spreading it over the side of the cake. Finish with the top of the cake, spreading the remaining icing over the top and smoothing the joins at the sides.
8. Finally, decorate the cake with coconut chips. Take handfuls, pressing them gently into the sides. Add handfuls to the top of the cake too, and then stick individual chips into any gaps. Vacuum your floor (there will be coconut everywhere) and enjoy the cake.