Grandpa Merrill's Favorite Banana Cake

Granny and Grandpa at my parents

The young couple Merrill and Jean Darling

Grandpa Merrill in the Navy in WWII - He was a cook

Grandpa at Du Par's at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles

Cooking day with Granny.  We have four generations of Better Homes
and Gardens Cookbooks. Granny's from 1942 is in the top
of this picture behind the water glass. Grandpa's favorite Banana Cake
recipe was from that cookbook.

My grandmother, Jean Sawers, was a stenographer at Nicholsen's Dress Shop in Seattle. She went over to Manning's cafeteria for her lunch hour and a handsome young busboy named Merrill Raymond Darling asked her if he could clear her tray. My grandfather was 18 and my grandmother was 19. They were married and had my uncle Rich and my mother and then my grandfather was called to service in the Navy in WWII. He was a cook in the Navy (later I'll share his Navy cookbook from 1944 that my grandmother gave to me.) My mom was only a few months old when my grandfather left for WWII so she didn't know who he was when he came home.

Merrill was given a short leave during the war at the Navy Base in Pt. Hueneme.  My grandmother took the train down from Seattle to meet him.  They met in Santa Barbara and danced at El Paseo.  They feel in love with Santa Barbara that night and dreamed of moving to California when the war was over.    They decided to settle in Los Angeles instead of moving back to Seattle.  My grandmother said that her mother never forgave her for moving to California. Even on her deathbed, my great grandmother, Nammy said "I can't believe you took those two beautiful children away from me."

Merrill, with his cooking and baking skills went to bake pies at Du Pars at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. He ended up working his way up to manager. Eventually he moved to Thousand Oaks and managed the Du Par's there. Then he and another manager from Du Par's partnered together to open Bray's 101 in Goleta. (I remember Bray's well. We visited grandpa there often as children and all of growing up. I loved the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and they had the best Fried Chicken and the best Clam Chowder. My Auntie Colleen made all the biscuits. They also had cases with mirrors on them and you could see the Tapioca Pudding and Chocolate Pudding and Jello. I loved it there and was lucky enough to go on all most of my dates in high school there!)

After my grandfather retired, my grandparents moved to Solvang and my grandfather counted the money at the bakery. He always whistled. Then every Thanksgiving he would come down from his office and bake pies. My mom would bake pies with him. He insisted on putting lard in the crust for a true flaky crust.

My grandfather kept a picture of me in my chef's jacket on his desk where he counted the money. He wasn't one to actually give any compliments so I only knew he was proud because the picture was on his desk and because he asked me what my chef's coat said and when I said "Maili Productions," he said "how about that!"

On New Years Day in 2004 all the great-grandchildren were at my parents so my grandparents came over for brunch and to be with everyone. My grandfather gave me his Epicurean cookbook. It was a treasure to him and a very important book and he thought I could use it. Three days later my grandparents went to brunch after church and my grandfather had a stroke at brunch. He died that night. My mom, Colleen, sister and my granny were with him, but he had so recently seen everyone that we all felt like we had our chance to say goodbye. Fr. Michael came twice that night. Once to give him last rights and again to say a prayer with all of us after he died. I'll always be so grateful to Fr. Michael for taking the time to come twice in the middle of the night.

One the day of his funeral I had to cater a wedding. It was all so sudden, how could I have known. We all went to the funeral and I did a reading and all the male grandchildren carried the coffin. We went to the beautiful Ballard cemetery where my other grandparents are buried, we cried through the burial. But then I had to go cook and I couldn't go to the reception afterward with the pictures and the visiting and rejoicing and remembering. I felt like I missed a part of the mourning process.

My Auntie Colleen, my mom's sister, was the backbone of my catering company and I NEEDED her to be there with me. Here her father had passed away and she had to go through all that I went through and even in her sorry she still came to the wedding to help me cook. We managed to make the food for the wedding but we all kept crying in the kitchen tent. Hopefully Grandpa would have been looking down on us with a smile and be happy that we were carring on his tradition and profession of cooking!

July 31 is my Grandpa Merrill's birthday. He would have been 88 years old. I talked to Granny tonight on the phone and we sure do miss that handsome man. Granpa's favorite birthday cake was a Banana Cake, so in honor of him I thought I'd share the recipe. Originally, my grandmother used the recipe from the 1942 but later they used one from the 1965's version of Better Homes and Garden's. I'll include both. One of his other favorite dishes was Crab Louie. On his last birthday I cooked for him I updated Crab Louie a bit by added a little chipotle and orange juice to the dressing. He liked it! I'll eventually send you that recipe too. But for now here are the banana cake recipes. (when we went to visit my Great-Aunt JoAnn, Merrill's sister who recently was put on hospice, she said she always remembered the jar with the chopper in it that sliced the walnuts for Grandpa's Banana Cake. Chopped walnuts can be substituted.

The cakes were frosted with Butter Frosting and that recipe follows both cake versions.

Happy Birthday Grandpa!

Banana Cake, 1942 Better Homes and Gardens

1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 well-beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda (i.e baking soda)
1/4 cup sour milk
1 cup banana pulp
1/2 cup sliced walnuts (my grandmother's addition, not in original recipe)

Throughly cream shortening and sugar; add eggs and vanilla extract; beat until fluffy. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with sour milk and banana pulp, beating well after each addition. Bake in waxed-paper-lined 6 1/2 by 10-1/2 inch cake pan in moderate oven (350) 50 minutes. Cool. Frost with Brazil Seven-Minutes Frosting: Add 12 slivered Brazil nuts to Seven-Minute Frosting on page 18. (my grandmother made butter frosting not the Brazil nut 7 minute frosting so I'll include what she used. I just wanted to type the original recipe word for word because I thought it was odd that the cake pans were lined with wax paper instead of buttered and floured.)

Banana Cake, 1965 Better Homes and Gardens

Oven 350

Place 2/3 cup shortening in a mixing bowl. Sift in 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour. 1 2/3 cups sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1 1/4 cups mashed fully ripe bananas and 1/3 cups buttermilk. Mixx till moistened; beat 2 minutes at medium speed on electric mixer. Add 1/3 cups buttermilk and 2 eggs; beat 2 minutes longer. If desired, fold in 2/3 cup chopped walnuts. Bake in a greased and lightly floured 9-inch cake pan at 350 for 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool throughly.

Butter Icing 1965 Better Homes and Gardens

6 tablespoons butter
1 1-pound package confectioners sugar
Light Cream (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter; gradually add about half the sugar, blending well. Beat in 2 tablespoons cream and vanilla. Gradually blend in remained sugar. Add enough cream to make of spreading consistency. Frosts two 8 or 9 inch layers. Note: for more creamy frosting, beat in 1 egg instead of first 2 tablespoons cream. After adding remaining sugar, beat in cream for spreading consistency.


Anonymous said…
I am Benny Bray's grandaughter. Do you have any pictures of Bray's 101? I would love to see them. My email is
Denise Bray Story

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