Nanna was working in the kitchen, steam rising around her. She was boiling the Christmas pudding, in its cloth. The mixture had been made a couple of weeks before, and the pud had been hanging in its cloth, the flavours of the dried fruit and sugar combining juicily. Now at a suitable state of maturation, the pud was ready to be boiled. Or steamed, really. It sat for hours in a pan of boiling water, topped up as it evaporated.
Nanna was baking for Christmas. This was the day for the pud, the cakes, the biscuits. Already she’d done the fiddly little forcer biscuits, as we called them, because the fine mixture made with rice flour had to be pushed through an implement we called a ‘forcer’ – a metal tube you filled with biscuit dough, with a kind of plunger at one end for forcing the dough out the other end. It was forced through interchangeable metal discs with various fancy shapes – stars, hearts, little Christmas trees. Nanna would let me add a bit of chopped glacé cherry, or some coloured sugar ‘sprinkles’, to decorate the forcer biscuits.
One of the discs for the forcer had a simple horizontal line with zigzag notches down one side. Nanna used this for the malt biscuits. A delicious malty smell filled the kitchen when they were forced out in long lines across the baking trays. Ten lines would fit on one tray. Nanna would take a sharp knife and slice through the lines of unbaked dough to make biscuits about two inches long. Then the malty baking could start.
We only made forcer biscuits and malt biscuits at Christmas time, because the forcer was a lot of work, and fiddly. But now, with the biscuits cooling and the pudding steam misting up the kitchen windows, Nanna was mixing up an everyday favourite, a banana cake. I loved this cake, full of ripe banana mash and topped with lemon icing and shredded coconut. It always sank in the middle, under the weight of its own banana-ness. Nanna took a black-skinned, over-ripe banana from the bowl on the bench and peeled back its icky skin. To look at an over-ripe banana you’d think it had gone bad, turned rotten. But inside the black skin was a yellow mound of banana flesh that melted under Nanna’s fork into a sweet mush. She added two more wet, soft bananas to the bowl and mashed them up with a few drops of vanilla essence.
This would be a fabulous banana cake. One of the greats.