It was my father’s birthday recently. He lives in Bolivia and I haven’t seen him for almost 2 years. Distance and the passage of time are especially hard for me when birthdays come up.
The days leading up to his birthday and a few after it, I found my mind drifting through various childhood memories, like visiting my grandfather’s house in Obrajes, where my family spent most Saturday lunch times with the whole extended Castillo Clan (20+ people), and which was the most amazing house for any child to explore, with many secret closets and staircases and terraces to play the most incredible hide and seek imaginable, and where my siblings and I grew up so close to our cousins and uncles and aunts. What a blessing to have had that time and to now have such memories that will bind us close together forever.
Of course such memories are completely connected to food, but among the many food memories that flashed by, this one jumped out: ‘Queque de Platano’ or Banana Bread, which I remember eating throughout my childhood as a little treat when it was time for tea, and we had to come in from playing out in the garden (tea time in Bolivia is a cup of tea and little something to eat mid afternoon) and which, in my view, could not represent more vividly the feeling of the warmth and comfort of ‘being home’.
It’s a very simple recipe, for any old day, it’s not a cake – that’s fancy and needs a special occassion – this one is just a little treat for a day that is not really special, other than for the fact that you are home, you are well and warm when it’s cold outside, and you have a nice cup of tea in your hand that’s needs company.
And so here it goes, but as always beforehand a little word about my Fairtrade ingredient: Fairtrade Bananas.
Bananas are a big deal in the UK. I remember being surprised by this when I first moved here, since they seem to be the country’s favourite fruit and somehow a bit of a status symbol and definitely a sign that you are interested in being ‘healtly’, You can still see them being sold in coffee shops and supermarkets for up to a £1 EACH, which is extortionate; and which could not be more different in Bolivia where they are, I guess because of their abundance, a bit of a poor-man’s fruit.
Anyway, Fairtrade Bananas have had a very high profile in the UK, and this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight efforts will be focused on them (will touch more on this in future posts). There has even been a phenomena called the ‘banana wars’, which is a very famous trade quarrel between the US and the EU, where the US made a huge fuss about a EU scheme that offered banana producers from former colonies in the Caribbean special access to European markets. Of course, Bananas are crucial to the Caribbean economy and half the population even now rely on them to meet basic needs such as food, shelter and education. Without the demand for Fairtrade bananas in the UK and Europe, islands like the Windward Islands (Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent) would be in real economic trouble. There is much more information about this on the Fairtrade Foundation’s website: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/producers/bananas/winfa_2/
But aside from the positive impact of the Fairtrade banana trade in the Caribbean, I was moved recently by learning about the impact that Fairtrade is having in the Colombian banana plantations. The Colombian armed conflict has been affecting thousands of people since the mid sixties, and of course that includes smallholder producers, who are simply trying to make a living and who get caught in the crossfire. What moved me was the descriptions of producers who explained that now that they are able to make a ‘decent’ living from the sale of their bananas to Fairtrade markets, they could resist joining the armed conflict, which for many people living in the countryside, for a long time, represented the only option for an income. Yes, guerrillas have been the main ’employers’ in the region for many years, but now that farmers can support themselves they can opt not to be part of the conflict they loathe. Of course, it’s not all rosy, because they still suffer threats and violence from armed groups who want them to join them or who want to get their hands on their incomes. But standing together in their cooperatives, they feel stronger and less afraid of them. Perhaps by buying more of their bananas, more and more ‘guerrilleros’ will leave their groups and join cooperatives instead. Wouldn’t that be great for Colombia.
And so, here goes the recipe (adapted from a BBC one):
285g/10oz plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
110g/4oz butter, plus extra for greasing
225g/8oz caster sugar
2 free-range eggs
4 Fairtrade ripe bananas, mashed
85ml/3fl oz buttermilk (or normal milk mixed with 1½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
250 grs of walnuts
1) Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2) In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
3) Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.
4) Add the eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk, vanilla extract and nuts to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well.
5) Grease and flour a loaf tin and pour the cake mixture into the tin.
6) Transfer to the oven and bake for about an hour, or until well-risen and golden-brown.
7) Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
Oh yes, a little slice of home. Definitely one to bake over and over, specially to cure the odd homesickness attack.