22 February 2010

Family recipe Monday: hummingbird cake

Anna's hummingbird image by Doug Sparks, from http://hummingbirdworld.com/h/17.htm

Our friend Pat called from the road on Saturday, on her way from Colorado to Florida. She was in El Reno, Oklahoma, just west of Oklahoma City. Pat is a tremendously gifted cook, among many other hats she wears, and she has started using the Roadfood.com resources as a way to liven up long drives. Today she was at an El Reno culinary shrine, the home of the onion burger. Apparently there is a lively debate over which restaurant in El Reno invented this, but word has it that it is not to be missed, especially if you are on a long drive across Oklahoma and you are cross-eyed with road fatigue as you drive through what she calls "frizzle" (=freezing drizzle). It propelled her all the way to Houston in one day; it must be good.

Pat was describing the menu to us and noted that there was a dessert called Hummingbird Cake, of which she had never heard. It's very, very, VERY hard to stump Pat when it comes to anything having to do with cooking and recipes. (This is the woman who has her own cook's trailer and puts together three-course dinners for paleontology field crews 60 miles from nowhere.) But I was able to tell her, gleefully, that the family recipe archives came through again: I do in fact have a recipe for Hummingbird Cake.

Not that I've ever made it.

Or that I know why it is named that, or where hummingbirds come into the picture. I'm relieved to report that they are not ingredients, so stop worrying about that. No hummingbirds have been harmed in the making of this cake.

There seem to be many weird explanations: that the "taste of each bite makes one hum with delight" (mmmm...), that it is as sweet as hummingbirds' sugar water...who knows? Myrecipes. com says that this is the most requested recipe in Southern Living's history, a favorite of covered-dish suppers. It is a very sweet cake with pecans, pineapple and bananas, graced by a rich cream-cheese icing, not unlike an Italian cream cake.

Here is my grandmother Johnson's recipe. The note in the top left corner reads: "From Maude." This is considerably older than the Southern Living recipe published in 1978. I notice that there are lighter versions, healthier versions, decorated versions of this online...but this is hers. I can't find any online resources that describe this as anything but a layer cake, so I'm curious how the tube cake would turn out. The oil makes it very moist, and the fruit and pecans are lavish. Extravagant, even.

Humming bird cake
For a tube pan or for 3 layers

3 cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp soda
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups salad oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 8-oz can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups chopped bananas

Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. Add eggs and salad oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat. Stir in vanilla, pecans, pineapple and bananas. Bake at 350 F.

Cream cheese icing
2 8-oz pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup margarine
2 16-oz pkg. powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Use only half of this for a tube cake.

I don't know how this compares to the El Reno version. If I ever go through there, I will most certainly find out. It's a good excuse for a road trip to Oklahoma. Happy Monday!

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