Warm smells of banana cake filled my kitchen, blending with abundant memories of a generation slipping into shadows, including the recall of old businesses such as A&P stores that once thrived nationwide.
The banana cake and A&P are closely related, and it's from the memories of my mother-in-law, Betty Diederich of Largo, that I gathered the banana cake recipe and heard its story.
A&P was the abbreviation for the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., the largest food retailer in the United States from 1915 to 1975. The company that developed the first self-serve supermarkets, as all grocery stores are today, now has supermarkets under six different names in the mid-Atlantic and New England states.
A&P pioneered store brands including Eight O'Clock coffee, a still-popular brand and a favorite found in my kitchen in Keurig cups. Woman's Day magazine was introduced by A&P in 1937 and sold exclusively at that store but today has no connection to A&P and is found at the checkout aisle in most supermarkets. Other A&P brands included Ann Page and Jane Parker.
From two marriages I've been fortunate with kind and loving mothers-in-law, both of whom supplied good recipes. From my first mother-in-law, Arlene Boots of Wesley Chapel who died several years back, I have, among other favorites, Swiss cheese cauliflower soup and dark chocolate fudge with currants. From my present mother-in-law Betty I have Christmas sugar cookies reminiscent of her father's bakery in Ottawa, Ill., and banana cake, the one I recently made and, following her directions, slathered in a rich fudge frosting.
Some years back, before my father-in-law Jack Diederich died, I listened to stories that reflected the mutual love of two people who celebrated more than 55 years of marriage, raised four children including my husband, Jay, weathering the storms of the Great Depression and Jack's stint in World War II. They clearly saw each other through good times and sad times, holding fast to family values and an obvious love that sustained them.
"We were talking about desserts and Dad said we should make banana cake," Betty said during one conversation years back. "It was a recipe on the back of an Ann Page yellow cake mix a long time ago, and it had chocolate frosting."
A few years later, I was recovering from oral surgery when Betty sent over a hefty portion of banana cake. A totally different thing than banana bread, which I make often, it was comforting and I justified the banana part as nutrition. Betty recited the recipe to me from memory.
At 89, I doubt she makes the cake anymore. My husband visits her regularly in Largo, often taking along portions of things from our kitchen. She'd recently mentioned banana cake, so I dug out the recipe.
Ann Page cake mix is not available anymore, so I substituted with a Duncan Hines Golden Butter mix and noted that on my recipe card. The cake turned out beautiful with a taste that makes it hard to leave alone. The chocolate frosting lives up to the adage "the icing on the cake"!
I liked hearing Betty's excitement that banana cake was on the way. My husband is equally excited about our portion at home. Now, my job is to steer him away from eating it for breakfast.