"This is what cake should be" Anon from Nigella Eats Everything
I seem to have cake on my mind, which is not normal, because cake is really not my thing. However, I have to say that I was rather taken with this photograph from the October Coles Magazine, of Curtis Stone's version of hummingbird cake, which he calls Tropical hummingbird cake. Interestingly, although the passionfruit are featured in the photograph, and obviously drizzled over the cake, they are not mentioned in the recipe! I also thought that this was a typical Australian cake and therefore, appropriate for a post. It's one of those old worldy sort of names which implies a history behind it.
How wrong I am - about it being Australian that is. It's actually from Jamaica, which is also a bit of a coincidence having done jerk chicken just recently, when I don't often visit Caribbean food in this blog. Maybe I should do more because so far, so delicious. The other thing that is marginally coincidental is that, like the jerk chicken, I could not find a recipe from Ainsley Harriott - the only Caribbean cook I know. Maybe he doesn't publish his recipes online, and he does actually have a recipe in one of his books. Which just confirms to me that I'm not a fan. He annoys me somehow and I don't have a good reason as to why because you could say his schtick is similar to Jamie's whom I love. No I think he is a bit condescending and self-centred.
Anyway this post is not about Ainsley Harriott. It's about Hummingbird cake. So let's start at the beginning in Jamaica, and this beautiful bird - their national bird - the red-billed streamer tail otherwise known as the doctor bird, because:
"The male's outer tail feathers, which are longer than the bird itself, along with its black crest, reminded Jamaicans of the top hat and coattails of an old-time doctor. The Arawak Indians, who were early inhabitants on the island, referred to the Streamertail as the “God bird,” since they believed these hummingbirds had magical powers and were the reincarnation of dead souls." American Bird Conservancy
They are such large photos because they are so beautiful. The first was taken by Rolf Nussbaumer and the second by Alfred Yan. Maybe the cake is called after it because it (the cake has magical powers too, though I'm not sure about the dead souls.
The nickname Doctor bird, is sometimes used by the Jamaicans as the name of the cake - The Doctor Bird cake. Why name the cake after the bird anyway? Well nobody really knows but here are a few ideas.
"The story behind the name is about as nuanced as the cake’s fruity, spiced, and tropical flavor. Maybe it’s because the cake is as sweet as the nectar that hummingbirds drink. Maybe it’s because anyone who takes a bite will positively hum with joy. Maybe it’s because people make a beeline to this pineapple banana cake as quickly as hummingbirds flock to the feeder." Tip Hero
And then there's my 'magical' idea too. There is also something about the yellow streaks on the bird - which you can only just see - which reminds one of the banana - well that's what they say anyway. And why just the banana, after all pineapple is yellow too - for this is fundamentally a pineapple/banana/pecan cake with a cream cheese frosting.
Nobody really seems to know when it was invented either, but what they do know is that in 1968 The Jamaican Tourist Board compiled a set of recipes and sent them to America in an effort to publicise the beauties of Jamaica for a holiday. The recipe took hold - particularly in the Southern states, from whence comes the first printed recipe in Southern Living - a magazine that is still going strong - from one Mrs. L. H. Wiggins. I don't know whether that is she in the photograph or whether it's just a model - the latter being the most likely.
Southern Living has republished the recipe and they also have other versions online, but this is the supposedly original recipe. And I have to say it doesn't look quite as tempting to me. It looks a bit dry in comparison to some of the other versions that I have found.
And lastly why am I thinking about cake? Well next week I am hosting our first face to face local book group for some time now. Three or four months I think - and I wrote about this a little while ago - the yearning for cooking a cake. The Rosemary olive cake is perhaps the front runner at the moment - somehow more sophisticated - but maybe not quite as sumptuous as the Hummingbird cake. Besides which recipe would I go for? These are my choices:
Tori Avey - an American blogger who had a very full 'history' of the cake, as well as a recipe. Then we come to the Australians, who on the whole - at least for the recipes I found seem to forego the layers. Woolworths - well, having started with Coles, I thought I should be unbiased and show you Woolworths go at it as well; Valli Little's version - probably from delicious.; the Australian Women's Weekly and Donna Hay's Hummingbird slice. When I think about it I only have two English versions today, which is odd considering how many people of Jamaican origin there are in the UK. - the first is from Nigella Eats Everything - a UK 'chef and food writer'. Hers was a bundt cake and I read somewhere that they think this is perhaps how the original Jamaican version was, though without any icing; and finally Jamie Oliver does his thing and I have to give him high marks - for appearance anyway.
"Light fluffy sponge with banana and pineapple galore, a crunchy dusting of pecan brittle, and a little reminder that zesty cream cheese icings rock – it’s near perfection." Jamie Oliver
And the winner is - well I think I'll go with the original inspiration and Curtis Stone. If I go with Hummingbird cake at all that is. Odd how I somehow thought it was a traditional Australian cake. It must the tropical thing - as if we are the only country in the world with tropics! How insular.