I read the novel Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers1 by Sara Ackerman, the current selection of the Cook the Books club, in just a few days: the story is interesting, at the level both of the individual characters and of the historical background. To the tragedies of World War II and of the internment of Japanese-Americans, the novel, set on the Big Island of Hawaii, adds the personal tragedies of Violet, whose husband disappeared a year before the story starts, and of their daughter, Ella, whose distress hints at a devastating secret she cannot share.
The title refers to the soldiers stationed on the Big Island (who in the course of the story are sent to fight on Iwo Jima) and the pies Violet and her friends bake and sell to said soldiers, some of whom will play a large role in their lives.
Against the backdrop of war, most people try to live each day with hope, purpose and empathy. Violet is also determined to find out what happened to her husband. A character one would not expect in the novel is Roscoe, a lion and the soldiers' mascot, with whom Ella develops a special relationship.
The point of view alternates between Violet to Ella, which gives texture to the narration (my one quibble here being that Ella's language often feels more appropriate to an older person). I let myself be transported to what is one of my favorite places in the world.
When I think about my visits to the Big Island, one vivid memory is that of tropical fruit (frutta tropicale). A tray of it, including a bunch of small ripe bananas, always awaits us in the kitchen of the place where we stay2.
I immediately fell for the small, sweet bananas called apple bananas3, whereas it took me some time to warm up to macadamia nuts. Tasting freshly roasted and lightly salted fresh macadamia nuts at the farmers' market finally made me a convert: they are so good, they are addictive.
A steady supply of apple bananas and macadamia nuts made me think about a possible dessert combining the two. A minimal kitchen made sure I kept it simple.
On the mainland I replicated the recipe with regular bananas (Cavendish) and roasted Hawaiian macadamia nuts with a touch of sea salt that I found at the local store. I close my eyes and as I eat, I dream of the Big Island.
Ingredients (per portion):
- Half a medium banana or one apple banana
- A few macadamia nuts, previously roasted and with a touch of sea salt added
- A small amount of coconut oil or other fat of choice
Slice the banana not less than 1/4 inch / 6 mm thick. Finely chop the macadamia nuts and set them aside.
Warm up a small cast-iron skillet on medium heat, then add the oil and make sure there is a thin film all around (you don't want the banana to stick to the pan nor the be drenched in oil).
Distribute the banana slices in the skillet and turn down the heat to medium-low. After a couple of minutes, gently flip the slices. The goal is to get a thin caramelized layer. After a couple of minutes, remove from the heat and transfer the slices onto a serving plate.
Sprinkle the chopped nuts on them. Serve immediately.
When I shared the recipe with two local young men (our guides for a pre-dawn hike), one of them suggested to add a bit of honey (miele). Local honey, another product you can find at the farmers' market is excellent. For me personally the recipe is sweet enough as is, but I leave the suggestion on the table in case you want to try.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the banana in padella e noci di macadamia audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]