My father crept up the semi-circular driveway, gravel scattering beneath the weight of the tires as he parked. The pebbles crunched underfoot as I walked towards the front door of my best friend’s house. It opened to release an intense feeling of familiarity, the result of the many years of friendship our families had shared. I could visualize the floor plan of their home almost as easily as I could picture the magnolia walls of our three bedroom rental in Knaphill.
My parents and I sat at the dining table with my best friend, her older brother and her parents. We often ate together on the weekends and I was assigned my usual spot, acting as a human screen placed strategically between sister and brother.
After dinner, I would undoubtedly be persuaded to watch Cats again. Then we’d spend the rest of the night exploring nonsensical ideas to fuel our uncontrollable giggling. Eventually the adults would insist that it was time for bed and I’d lie on the trundle bed, staring up at the popcorn ceiling. I would fall asleep to the muffled soundtrack of the adults playing a raucous game of hearts, laughter floating up through the carpeted floors.
When a bowl of cream of mushroom soup arrived on my placemat, I realized the evening might not conform to my expectations. I had decided early in life that mushrooms are the most odious food of all. My sympathetic mother almost never served them and when she did I was given carte blanche. Unfortunately, we were not at home and my parent’s etiquette rules trumped the free reign I usually had regarding fungi. I was compelled to eat the soup.
I began a series of intense calculations to determine how much soup I would need to eat in order to avoid the disaster of 1998, when I had attempted to hide a pile of mushrooms my grandmother had lovingly sautéed inside a nest of mashed potatoes. The construction of my potato fort had been breached at the last moment by my father’s fork.
After a considerable amount of stalling, I plunged my spoon into the traditional Dutch boerenbont bowl. The thick taupe liquid imparted a warm, savory earthiness as I drew the spoon up to my mouth. Sliced mushrooms ran down my esophagus, which convulsed in protest. I had made my way through a third of the soup when my friend’s mother stood up. She deftly seized my bowl and said simply, “Sorry Siri! Waarom zei je niks?” before disappearing into the kitchen. I uttered a sigh of relief. In that moment I realized I had not one family, but two.
Mushrooms were one of two foods I disliked passionately as a child, the second being pineapples. My mother accommodated my aversion towards mushrooms but, much to my dismay, would occasionally make a pineapple upside-down cake for my father. Although I’ve come to appreciate the sweet intensity of pineapple juice, I am less fond of their stringy texture. The best solution? Substitute canned pineapple slices with fresh stone fruits. The juice of ripe nectarines and apricots seeps into this simple but sturdy cake. It is best enjoyed a few minutes after it comes out of the oven, while the caramel running down the sides of the cake is still warm.
Apricot and Nectarine Upside-Down Cake:
Makes one 22x14x3.5cm cake (6 people).
100g brown sugar
Melt 40g butter in a heavy saucepan.
Once melted, add the brown sugar and allow to caramelize slightly over medium heat. Stir for about 4 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat and pour into the baking tin (buttering and flouring the tin is unnecessary as the melted sugar topping should allow the cake to release easily).
125g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
80g granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 180°C
Pit the nectarines and apricots and cut into thick slices. Snack on the outer slices as these are less visually appealing and won’t look as decorative. Arrange the slices in the cake tin as desired.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients to combine.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.
Add the first egg and whisk to create a fluffy texture. Repeat with the second egg.
Use a large spoon to incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.
Pour the batter into the cake tin and spread to an even layer with a spoon, taking care not to move the fruit in the bottom of the tin.
Bake for about 40 minutes or until a wooden tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool for one minute before sliding a knife around the edges of the baking tin and inverting the cake tin onto a plate.