I love baking. I love making ingredients into something more. I love measuring and mixing. I love the transformation and magic that the hot oven gives to a pan of raw batter. If you think about it, we are all a little liked baked goods. We are changing and moving and living. We are raw and unrefined.
Despite my love, I bake much less than I used to do. I have cut lots of sweets and sugars from my mouth and from my kitchen. However, I believe in balance and dislike restriction. Now, I celebrate when I whip out the flour and sugar, and share the results with friends or save a portion for the freezer.
One of my favorites to make and bake is banana bread. I love it for simplicity and ease: no kneading or rising necessary. I love it for the familiar taste from childhood. The recipe I use is a flashback to both my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. While it’s not a recipe invented in our family, it comes from a well-worn cookbook that both my grandmother and mother referred to often. My recipe card, stained and wrinkled, is copied directly from that book, The Southwestern Cookbook. It’s a compilation from various women of the southwest who shared their favorite recipes.
Banana bread, though, is more than just delving back into a familiar recipe from childhood. I love it most that it takes “overripe” bananas, ones that might be thrown away in another household and turns them into something glorious. We all know the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I think the adage should be rewritten as, “If life gives you overripe bananas, bake banana bread.”
Outside my kitchen, I have spent my entire work life talking about and convincing others that waste is not really waste, but something misused, mismanaged, or misplaced. The banana bread loaves of childhood become food and fodder for a lifelong mission. The kitchen, for me, becomes refuge and retreat. It becomes the source of creation, and a place to make sense and order. Baking requires a strict adherence to a recipe. Little improvisation can occur, or it ruins the alchemy and magic. If you don’t measure properly, or mix too long, or don’t watch the time, a golden loaf of banana bread becomes a non-edible brown brick. Even looking for opportunity in mistake, at most turns that brick into a doorstop.
The recipe calls for two to three bananas. I eat bananas almost daily, and in my weekly shopping trips, will often pick up a few extras, more than I could possibly consume in a few days. The surplus, once brown in my fruit bowl, I throw into the freezer, peel and all. Then, I pull them from the dark recesses for the star ingredient in banana bread or as the base for breakfast smoothies.
The rest of the recipe is simple: sugar, some flour, eggs, lemon juice, butter, and baking powder. If I have nuts, I use them, but most often leave them out. I have revised the recipe when I baked for a vegan friend. Otherwise, I stick to the standard. It helps when you take the eggs and butter out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature before they get mixed into the batter. The mixing is not difficult, a rubber spatula or wooden spoon will do the trick. All the ingredients fit into one bowl, so there are not many dishes to wash. It makes enough for one loaf, filling a loaf pan that I bought at a thrift store in my first year after college, or the glass Pyrex one that I got after my grandmother died.
The recipe says that the bread bakes for an hour and fifteen minutes, but usually it takes more like forty-five minutes to an hour. That gives me enough time to wash the dishes, wipe counters, and make a pot of tea. Pulling the bread from the oven is like reaching into bliss. The smell of bread, the light whiff of bananas is the right amount of scent, without overpowering the kitchen.
Using a butter knife to loosen the bread from the edges of the pan, and then letting the loaf cool for a few minutes before dumping it onto a plate leads to intact bread. Sometimes, though, I get impatient or I forget and then I have a crumbly, piecemeal loaf. No matter, a warm slice with a cup of hot tea is perfection. It can be dessert or a piece can serve as part of a quick breakfast.
While it may not be “healthy,” this banana bread is part of my past, my present, my future. It’s a lesson in thrift and a discovery that good can come from what others consider waste. It’s a favorite, a ritual, an analogy, a story.