February – the stores are decked out in red and pink hearts, furiously marketing in the name of love. Jewelers and bridal salons are having their best time of the year, measuring love in carats and yards of lace. It was in February, cold and gloomy, that King Henry VII, the first Tudor king, proposed to his widowed daughter-in-law, sixteen-year-old Princess Catalina of Aragon, known in England as Catherine.
Little more than a year has passed since a teenage Infanta, the proud and somewhat spoiled daughter of Their Most Catholic Majesties Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain (yes, those Isabella and Ferdinand!) stepped on the slushy English soil as a bride of Prince Arthur, Henry’s son and heir. As befits a princess, she was accompanied by a retinue of attendants, some of whom looked so exotic that commoners, gathered to welcome her entrance into London, ran into two opposite directions: some were pushing closer to get a better look, while others were trying to get away from the black faces of the Moors, never seen in England before. Was the future Queen a golden-haired angel or a vile sorceress who brought unthinkable evil creatures into the land? Both versions were hotly debated, especially when the poor Prince Arthur suddenly became ill and died just a few months after the wedding.
King Henry, the grieving father, was in a quandary. By all rights, the little widow should’ve been sent home to momma, but there was a matter of her dowry, or, to be exact, half of it that had arrived together with her, the other half to be paid.. well… to be paid. At some point in the future. Or so King Ferdinand had assured King Henry, and between the two of them, it’s hard to say who was a more tight-fisted, miserly manipulator. To be politically correct, let’s call them frugal and parsimonious. However, if Catherine were to be sent back, the half already paid would have to be refunded, and Henry just couldn’t bring himself to part with the money. Meanwhile, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, died, and suddenly, he saw a window of opportunity! If he marries his son’s widow, not only would he not have to return the first half of the dowry, but he’ll also be entitled to the balance – wow!
The temptation was great for a sixteen-year old widow: to become a queen, instantaneously. It was King Ferdinand who stopped this train in its tracks. “Wait a minute, – he said, – you have that little ten-year-old show off, that carrot-top kid with no civilized manners, who has now become your heir. What will happen to my daughter after your death? May you live long and prosper, Your Majesty, of course! Oh no, if my daughter is to marry anyone in your G-d forsaken, pardon me, great country, it will be your little pipsqueak, Henry-whatever-his-number-will-be!” Several years of haggling and bickering between the two monarchs allowed Catherine to swear that the marriage to Arthur was never consummated, and thus receive a dispensation to marry Arthur’s brother. “The little pipsqueak,” who has been proclaiming his love and devotion to the golden-haired Infanta ever since he had escorted her to join his brother in holy matrimony, has come of age.
The wedding was kind of understated, by the standards or those times. It was understood, though, that both the bride and the groom were still in mourning, as Catherine’s mother, the all-powerful Queen-militant Isabella has just passed away as well. Henry, however, had a sweet tooth, and being in love with his bride, he offered her some of his favorite treat, carrot pudding. It was quite a novelty, since puddings were mostly meat-based, rather than vegetable-filled, and making a royal pudding that looked more like manchet bread found on a commoner’s table, was unheard of. Catherine, most probably, smiled in her customary reserved infanta-like manner, and took a small bite. Having grown up in the decadent luxury of the Alhambra palace, captured by her mother from the Moorish king, she was used to a variety of Middle Eastern fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, and certainly sweets. As a good and dutiful wife, in time she would start an herb and vegetable garden and encourage the exotic fruit and spice trade. It would be a good and reasonable guess that at some point during the sixteen years of her marriage to Henry, her Moor cooks have happily married carrot pudding with bananas to create a delicious offspring – carrot banana bread.
Since I have not been able to find any information about the origins of banana bread, and since all sources seem to agree that carrot bread had evolved from carrot pudding (Henry VIII’s favorite), I have taken all kind of liberties with the recipe. And why not? Look at the liberties Henry has taken with all his wives, starting with Catherine! I am using spelt flour (if you have an allergy to gluten or a celiac disease, please consult your physician), brown sugar, olive oil, baking powder, a dash of cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Most importantly, I am abiding by My Own Rules of Dessert: Rule # 1. If it’s not chocolate, it’s not a dessert. Therefore, cocoa powder goes into it. I also add finely chopped walnuts or pecans, whatever I have on hand at the moment.
I have fallen in love with aquafaba. It’s that liquid stuff you get when you cook chickpeas, and it whips into a foam almost like eggs, but it has no cholesterol. Just to think that for years I’ve been pouring it down the drain!
Contrary to all the established routines, we mix the dry ingredients first: spelt flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
Then we whip aquafaba into a foam, whisk it with olive oil, and mash ripe bananas into it. I prefer to leave them somewhat chunky, but it’s up to you.
And here it comes, the marriage of carrot and banana! Introduce the wet ingredients to the dry, add grated carrots and walnuts, and gently mix, just until moistened.
It will be a thick, dense bread dough, rather than cake batter. Don’t worry, just place it into a greased loaf pan and bake it for about an hour.
Henry VIII might have been a notorious womanizer, a great scoundrel and a wife-murderer, but, if the legend is true, we have to be grateful to him for this delicious idea.
Just look at what came out of my oven, crusty on the outside and moist on the inside – fit for a royal table! But I have to remember the second of My Own Rules of Dessert: Rule # 2. The more chocolate, the better.
I served it drizzled with chocolate syrup and garnished with raspberries. That was one of the best Sunday brunches my husband and I have ever had, or so he claims every Sunday!
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- A dash of salt
- 1 cup aquafaba (alternatively, 2 large eggs)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 very ripe bananas
- 1 cup grated carrots (1 large or 2 medium carrots)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- Optional: chocolate syrup and fresh berries to garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease loaf pan.
- Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Put aside.
- Whip aquafaba to foam consistency, whisk with oil, mash bananas into it.
- Stir into dry ingredients, add carrots and walnuts, mix gently until moistened.
- Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Serve warm, drizzle with chocolate syrup, garnish with fresh berries.