Some of my fondest memories from growing up are my birthday celebrations. These special days were always celebrated surrounded by either my childhood friends or family. However, every year one thing was always the same – the cake.
I remember as the time grew near to my birthday I would watch mother make our cake. Mother was extremely busy, with me being a twin and my other sisters running around, but that didn’t keep her from making us feel special. This was a common thing for her. Even when it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, she was known for her hospitality, generosity, and kindness. No matter who you were if you were sitting at mother’s table you could be sure your favorite meal would be hot and ready to eat. Her joy came from seeing you enjoy a bountiful dinner.
But, birthdays were especially important. I would wake up early to the smell of cake baking in the oven, peer around the corner and watch mother working with a smile. Beaming with excitement, I watched her frost the layers in her faded green apron. Mother always made her own dresses. She would take the scraps left over and use them to sew lovely aprons. We may not have had much, but mother still pulled together the best of what we had to celebrate us. Our first birthdays were celebrated around a small wooden table and chairs, where one of my favorite pictures was taken. However, as we became teenagers, my mother would set the dining room with china, crystal, and sterling silver. Even today I still have classmate friends who talk about how special my birthdays were, Mother made you feel like royalty. We sat at the table and enjoyed our dinner in anticipation for the grand finale. Mother’s three layer banana nut cake gloriously covered with banana buttercream carried in on our grandmother’s pedestal crystal cake platter. It was so good I didn’t even care if I had ice cream to go with it, pure deliciousness. The cake is full of ripe bananas that give it the sweetest flavor and superb, moist texture. Adding bananas to the frosting gives it an even richer taste. Sadly, after mother passed away most of my birthday cakes were purchased at the store. But today, my daughters and daughter-in-law have picked up the tradition making sure I get to enjoy eating Banana Nut Cake on my birthday. And it always brings those fond memories of my Mother flooding in.
As I’ve grown older, I have realized that my love of southern cooking all started with this cake in our home. Every tradition and meal my family enjoys now came from me being raised in a home with Southern roots.
Father was raised in Georgia and Mother in Texas, so combined you could imagine the love for a southern home cooked meal ran deep. Dad loved his grits, chicken fried steak and fresh peach cobbler and homemade vanilla ice cream to finish it off. Now for Mother, it was slow cooked Oven Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots for Sunday dinner and warm Texas Hot Cocoa Cake. In the summertime, it wasn’t unusual for Mother and us girls to enjoy a plate of fresh vegetables and a hot pan of cornbread for dinner and before going to bed enjoying cornbread crumbled up in a cold glass of milk or sweet milk as referred to when I grew up. Our garden allowed us to enjoy the tastiest, freshest vegetables and fruit which we canned to use year round, like our 14 Day Sun Pickles, Homegrown Green Beans, Pickled Peaches, and all kinds of preserves. In the freezer, we would bag fresh purple hull peas, corn on the cob, okra, and squash. No matter what we were eating though, sweet tea was always a must. My parent’s heritage taught me to love crafting tasty food.
Now, I have the privilege of cooking all sorts of different dishes for different seasons. Not only is cooking fun but it is a way to show those you love just how much you care about them. For me, it has been a way to serve my family. Cooking a warm venison stew after the boys come back from a Thanksgiving hunt famished, or baking a German chocolate pie with my granddaughters (and maybe sneaking a couple bites), or something just as simple as making their favorite egg sandwich for my grandsons when they pop in for a visit— these are all ways that I get to show I love them.
After all these years, I get to combine my mother and father’s recipes and my own additions to create a bounty of dishes to pass down. That is my passion. I hope to take my own experiences and teach my daughters, son, and grandchildren so that they can pass it onto the next generation. Cooking is something that as a family has unified us. No matter what is happening around us or how far apart we may be you can always count on the fact that we will spend Thanksgiving around the table together. Seasons come and seasons go, but food with family is an age old tradition— that hasn’t changed. And to think, it all started with a banana nut cake for an annual birthday celebration in a simple southern home. Through every passing year as I learn more about cooking and teaching those around me, I grow deeper in my love of celebrating southern cooking in every season.
Mother’s Southern Banana Nut Cake With Banana Buttercream Frosting
- 3 tablespoons shortening (to grease cake pans)
- 3 tablespoons flour (to dust cake pans)
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2 whole large eggs
- 3 ripe bananas, mashed (1½ cups)
- 4 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon soda
- ½ cup chopped pecans
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 6 cups powdered sugar (or more if needed)
- 2 medium ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup chopped pecans
Tip: Bananas vary in size. In this recipe, a medium size banana about 9 to 10-inches works best. The ripeness of bananas can also vary. I prefer the banana to be heavily black speckled, even light brown patches are ok, but not heavy black patches. The bananas need to be soft enough to mash with ease and have a fresh banana smell.
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease three 8″ round cake pans and dust with flour. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, using the paddle attachment. Add the eggs beating well after each one. Add mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla. Mix well.
- In a small bowl, combine flour and soda. Whisk together until blended.
- With mixer running, add ½ cup flour mixture at a time into the banana mixture. Mix only until flour is blended in with the banana mixture.
- Pour equal amounts of batter into prepared pans.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Do not over bake.
- Remove from the oven and let rest in pans on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes.
- Remove cakes from pans and cool on the rack until cool to the touch, approximately 30 minutes.
- While cake is cooling, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and the mashed bananas, using the whisk attachment. Add additional powdered sugar as needed to reach the right consistency; it should not be runny, but slightly stiff.
- Place the bowl of frosting in the refrigerator until cake layers are completely cool.
- When ready to frost, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir in the nuts by hand with a large spatula.
- Place one layer of the cake on a platter. Spread frosting on top of the layer evenly to the edges. Repeat with the other two layers frosting the sides after the final layer.
Note: I like to place the cake in the refrigerator after icing to set the frosting for 30-40 minutes. Refrigerating the cake does not change the taste but does make for a prettier cake. When using bananas with butter, the frosting can become a little more liquified and take longer to set.
KAY LITTLE is a 6th generation Southerner with roots from Atlanta, GA to Northeast TX. She lives in Texas with her husband, where they have three children and 12 grandchildren. Her passion for cooking was instilled by her parents who shared their love of Southern cooking with their family and others who were at their dinner table. Looking to hand that tradition down to her children and grandchildren, Kay started a food blog celebrating Southern cooking in every season. She is in the process of writing a cookbook to share her mother’s recipes while adding a section on converting the recipes to be more healthful, yet maintaining the flavor. Follow Kay on IG @cookingwithk and on her blog @ cookingwithk.net