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Bury St Edmunds Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite tells how the Ukraine war turned a breakfast dish into a symbol of courage



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Gemma Simmonite, of Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds, discusses how an innocuous breakfast dish will carry memories of strength and courage as she reflects on the impact of the war in Ukraine.

The sun is shining, and it definitely feels like spring has once again arrived.

It feels so alien to suddenly feel the sun on our faces once again, as if we’d forgotten what it ever felt like. The luxury of being able to take a moment with closed eyes and feel the warmth and hear birdsong is really powerful. Just to be able to enjoy a solitary simple feeling of peace, I realise, is a huge blessing.

Gastrono-me's Banana Bread (55690318)
Gastrono-me's Banana Bread (55690318)

The war and violence that is raining down relentlessly on Ukraine at present is so utterly disturbing and unjustified, it makes you wonder where the humanity is. Why must a country and its innocent people suffer such terrible atrocities because of one man and his despicable bulldozing regime?

Well, we let him get away with it time and again. Did nothing about it. Sanctions the equivalent of making him eat his broccoli. We’ve done the same before. History repeating.

History shows over and over these monsters; Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Hussein – monsters of men with unchecked power wielding terror and destruction. These names and many more in the pages of history books are studied and documented, and you cannot utter their names without conjuring devastating images of pain and persecution.

This time, we have experienced some of the pain closer to home. As some of you may know we have just renovated a new restaurant in Cambridge, and some of the building team were from the Ukraine and surrounding areas. To see the change in their day-to-day demeanour when the Russians began their inhumane attacks was marked, the tension in their faces and fear for relatives completely palpable in the space.

We had practically finished the build and usually there is a time of relief and a time to shake hands and congratulate the team for their hard work and efforts – but this time there were no such moments, no relief of a job finished as Roman and some of his colleagues were in fact preparing to drive that night in vans to the Polish border and deliver aid and equipment for their country – sobering doesn’t even begin to cut it. The juxtaposition of being tense about opening a restaurant compared to the terror of our friends – terrified about the safety of their famalies’ safety merely hours away is unfathomable. You may wonder how I’m going to wind a recipe into this story, how it will all fit cosily, but that’s just the point. It doesn’t.

It happened just like that to ordinary people. People painting skirting boards and laying wiring, whilst the kitchen team thrummed in the kitchen baking banana bread ready for opening day, selfishly wondering if everything would be finished in time for opening.

Where once there were schools, restaurant and bars, there’s only rubble, where there was freedom and sunshine there is oppression and aggression. The enduring sentiment that ripples through the Ukrainian people is of determination and a will not to give in, not to be driven out, not to cower but to stand and fight for what is theirs.

To have your life and country so threatened is not something many of us have experienced in this country anymore. And our teaching of history in our schools tends to gloss over the absolute horror of World War Two. And maybe it should. This world should be better than that now.

And yet it seems to be no different. Terrible history repeating terrible history.

Our friends who built Gastrono-me Bury and Gastrono-me Cambridge showed us a list of things they needed help purchasing. Not just how much they needed to buy it, but an actual list of things they needed to buy.

It was terrifying just to read. That friends of ours were looking for such things, and to be willing to risk their happy lives in the UK to drive this equipment to Ukraine, then drive back here again to pick up more equipment and go again was so difficult to understand.

There is a JustGiving page www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ukrainianemergencyappeal?utm_term=A8RbpQ8Br

We wouldn’t normally ask, but I don’t think pussyfooting around is relevant today. If there is anything you can give to help our friends stop that lunatic, please do.

It could be us needing help next. It really could. And we all know it.

So this is how I come to a recipe for Banana Bread, an innocuous breakfast dish that was once the symbol of lockdown to many, will always now have memories of strength and courage. And hopefully a donation to friends who helped to build much of what has been built in the UK for the last 30 years.

GASTRONO-ME BANANA BREAD

Makes 1 large loaf

Ingredients:

315g self-raising flour

110g light brown sugar

110g caster sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

350g mashed banana

120ml milk

1 large free-range egg

60ml vegetable oil

120g toasted walnuts

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mascarpone icing:

250g mascarpone cheese

85g honey

2 teaspoon of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

To serve:

Fruit compote

Fresh berries

Mint sprigs

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Spread the walnuts out on a lined baking sheet, toast lightly for 3-5 mins, being careful that they don’t catch.

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugars and salt into a large mixing bowl.

Mash the bananas in a separate bowl, add the milk, oil, egg and vanilla extract.

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin, by greasing with butter and lining with baking parchment in a central strip – this will allow you to lift the loaf out when ready.

Incorporate the wet banana ingredients into the dry flour mix and stir lightly until flour traces are no longer visible, lastly stir the walnuts into the mix, reserving some for the top of the loaf.

Pour the mix into the prepared loaf tin, and top with the remainder of the walnuts.

Transfer to the oven and bake for around an hour, or until well-risen and golden-brown – when inserted, a toothpick should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for ten minutes. Then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Whilst the banana bread is cooling, mix the ingredients together for the mascarpone topping.

To serve, slather two thick slices of banana bread with the creamy mascarpone mix. To be extra decadent top with fresh berries and mint sprigs the way we do at Gastrono-me.

Drizzle with extra honey and some fruit compote.

Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Call 01284 277980

Visit www.gastrono-me.co.uk