Death, banana cake and the art of comfort cooking


My aunt is dying of cancer. She will join a long list of family members who have died of cancer in recent years, coincidentally most of them aunts too.  I come from a family of loud, funny, independent women. Sometimes statements like that sound wanky and disingenuous and seem as if you just throw in a whole heap of adjectives like you’re writing a creative story in primary school. But in this case it’s very true. They’re all loud, they all have an opinion, you’ll never die wondering what they think, they all have a sense of humour and they all can cook. I’ve lost three of them from cancer and one from meningococcal. I’d like to say that with each wave of one being lost, it creates a rupture in my life but the truth of the matter is, it’s like slipping on a well worn pair of slippers. I’ve lost a cousin at the age of six to leukemia. I mean honestly, just add yourself to the list why don’t you?


Now, you’re probably thinking “Fuck me, what a cheery bloody post” but I think it’s important to discuss all aspects of life. If we fear the very topic or the very end of it all, how can we possibly face it when it comes right to our door? This may come across as very blasé or almost robotic in my tone, but coming from this long matriarch of strong willed women, I’ve learnt the trait of perseverance and the understanding that life is a series of things to be endured while you rummage through the shit, trying to find the joy.


At the centre of this family, the joy comes from being together and centres around food. The food we share, the food we discuss (ad nauseam) and the food we cook for one another.  To some, the thought of eating at a time of grief is completely foreign to them. I’m yet to experience this phenomenon. Most of us have memories or feelings of happiness attached to our food memories. While these must be treated carefully (food cannot be our only source of comfort) I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that these comforting dishes or food memories are integral to a healing process of sorts. For me, this ties directly into the act of cooking or baking itself. I have fond memories of sharing a kitchen and making a meal with the women who have left my life. Cooking for those left behind is a natural and comforting process for me. Now I know the concept of food as a means of bringing people together is not brand new here, nor is the idea of creating a feast for a funeral, but for me, for this family, it is indeed a central theme.


No words are ever enough. I hate it when people say “oh sorry to hear”…why? Did you knock the them off? But I suppose you can’t say much other than “Thats a shit sandwich for you there”. While words can’t be enough, nourishing the souls that remain and bolstering the spirits with cake, doesn’t sound like such bad consolation prize to me. This long winded introduction brings me to this banana sheet cake. Minimal effort, maximum comfort for both the baker and the eater. Grief or no grief, this cake is delicious and shouldn’t just be tethered to the unhappiest of times.



1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup caster sugar

1 3/4 cup self raising flour

2 bananas

1/2 cup full cream milk

2 tablespoons light sour cream

75g unsalted butter (melted)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Icing

70g unsalted butter (room temperature)

70g cream cheese (room temperature)

2 cups sifted icing sugar mixture

1 teaspoon vanilla extract



Firstly, mash the bananas into a chunky puree. Feel free to make it smoother but I prefer a chunkier texture.


In a bowl, combine the vanilla, eggs, sour cream and milk. Whisk until the eggs are incorporated fully.



Next pour in the sugars and whisk again.


Gently fold through the banana mixture and then pour in the melted butter.



Once the wet mixture is complete, sift the flour into the bowl and combine.


Now the goal here is to treat the batter like a muffin batter. That being, do not over mix and aim for a lumpier mixture. Don’t ask me why but this results in a lighter cake.


Pour into a lined and greased 18cm x 28cm cake/slice tin.


Bake for 25 minutes until risen and golden brown. Don’t fear a cracked topped, all will be disguised with the cream cheese icing.


Now to make said icing. I do this very simply by bunging it all into the food processor and giving it a whiz. This can of course be done with a hand held whisk or pure strength. I wouldn’t recommend by hand if you’re making this during a stressful time. It’s hard enough as it is.



Once the mixture is smooth and whipped up into a frenzy, introduce it to the cooled cake.



Ice and cut into squares or slices. Enjoy with a cup of tea and those you love.




Happy baking!

Yak x



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