In Defense of Banana Bread

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

My Dad

It’s the new definition of “stir crazy.” According to a bunch of newspaper articles (and my own experience at the supermarket), when the safer-at-home order was announced months ago, quarantined people everywhere grabbed their wooden spoons and began to stir up cookies, cakes, and breads like crazy. In those first few weeks of panic buying back in March and April, the shelves at my local market was consistently out of three things: toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, and…flour.

I readily admit I am one of those people who turned to the kitchen for entertainment when my other hobbies were squashed by the coronavirus. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking (especially baking), and not being able to leave my house gave me a chance to delve into recipe books I haven’t looked at for ages. But I’m not a dedicated chef: I like my recipes short, simple, and with common ingredients I regularly have on hand. In other words: Banana Bread.

First of all, what else are you going to do with those too-soft-to-eat-but-too-good-to-throw-away bananas? Unless you puree them into a smoothie, the choice is pretty limited. That spotted, over-ripe, fruit is begging to be made into a bread or a cake.

Secondly, it’s easy. It needs only a few common ingredients and can take just minutes to mix up. It is delicious in its most basic, bananas-only form. And yet there is a world of possibilities in a loaf of Banana Bread. Bake it in a round pan and you have cake. Use a loaf pan and you have bread. Use muffin tins and it cooks in half the time. Add spices, flavoring, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, even strawberry jam for a creative touch.

Now multiply those variations times the gazillion recipes out there. I did a brief survey of my small collection of cookbooks and found at least eighteen distinct and different recipes for Banana Bread. If I make one a week, it’ll be November before I‘d run through all the recipes immediately on hand.

To make use of this week’s half-dead bananas, I turned to a pamphlet published by the Fruit Dispatch Company of New York, circa 1960, entitled “Serve Bananas in Latest Style.” The cover features a dancing banana with big eyes and eyelashes, surrounded by confetti, waving a handkerchief. I had found it years ago tucked inside a first edition (1960) of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook that I rescued from the curb when a neighbor was throwing away books.

The only recipe I’d ever made from this pamphlet was ‘Ham Banana Rolls in Cheese Sauce’ (but that’s a story for another day). I can now say that the Banana Tea Bread recipe, with the suggested variation of adding nuts and dates, is a mid-century classic. No spices, no flavoring (not even vanilla), and completely delightful. An old-fashioned, delicate loaf; biting into it conjures up perfectly coiffed ladies in hats and pearls socializing after a bridge game. A charming taste of the past as I bake my way into the future, solace in these tough times.