Ode to The One and Only Banana Bread

The banana bread muffins were still gooey, even with an extra 15 minutes in the oven. For the millionth time, I ran through the ingredients and measurements in my head as we piled into the car, headed out to lunch. “Maybe it’s because we added chocolate chips?” I blurted out loud, to no one in particular.  “I like them!” declared Maddy cheerfully.  “Mom, they’re good, don’t worry,” chimed my daughter Sydney.

It was the start of the December break and I should have been easing into a carefree holiday mode. But as we drove, the muffin situation was nagging at me. Halving a recipe, which we did, requires attention, especially with two chatty 11-year old girls doing the baking.  Still, I know this recipe like the back of my hand. It’s supposed to be moist but cakelike. Not gooey.

For the record, mine is not just any banana bread recipe. It’s my mother’s. “The One and Only Banana Bread.”

Tattered from good use, the recipe page sits loosely among the hundred or so other recipes my mom assembled into a three-ring binder cookbook some twenty years ago as a gift to me and my sisters. Part instruction manual, part family homage, it’s a compilation of the culinary repertoire that my mom built from more than three decades of home cooking. Each recipe is carefully introduced with an explanation of how mom got her hands it  --- the who’s, the where’s and the when’s. 

Some dishes are sprinkled with personal anecdotes for added depth of flavor, like the fish stew that my mother prepared for my father in her city apartment on the night that he unexpectedly proposed to her. The bold footnote reads something to the effect of “proceed with caution.”

We were home for the holidays this year and that gave everyone in my house a little breathing space to enjoy some of the simple pleasures that often elude us, like reading by the fire and watching movies. Sleeping late. Baking. My kids love to bake when they can steal some time away from their hectic teenage schedules. Baking from scratch somehow feels like a luxury, an activity reserved for vacations and long weekends and holidays. The kids often find their own inspiration like popovers, madeleine cookies, and crème brulee, to name a few, or they can turn to the rows of cookbooks on my kitchen shelves. When in doubt, a Google recipe search is just fingertips away. But there’s nothing like going back to the familiar, comforting recipes that not only taste good, but also feel personal and special to us.  Like “Grandma’s Foolproof Apple Pie”, “Aunt Amy’s Peanut Butter Cookies” and “Mom’s Plum Cake.”

That’s why this year’s Hanukkah gift from my mother to each of her grandchildren was so meaningful. Mom arrived at our family gathering with a big, heavy cardboard box with what looked like a pile of books. No ordinary books though. Eight copies of her original three–ring bound cookbook, and, with this “second edition” there were even some new bonus recipes to boot.  A treasure chest encapsulating the food culture of our family, the gift signifies the passing of stories and traditions from one generation to the next. Not to mention it holds the key to the secrets of tender brisket, flavorful chicken soup and creating the perfect sweet-tart balance for apple pie.

My fifteen year-old niece excitedly thumbed through the pages in search of “The One and Only Banana Bread.”  “It’s not in the desserts section?” she asked. “Nope,” called out my fourteen year-old son, “It’s in breads!” Found it. Phew.

My mom doesn’t use chocolate chips, and her banana bread never comes out gooey. It’s just right because it’s what we expect and what we all know. The secret? Really ripe bananas, and love.

The One and Only Banana Bread

3 large (or 4 medium) very ripe bananas

¼ cup melted butter

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1 ½ cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Butter a loaf pan.  In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix the bananas, butter, egg and sugar.  Combine ingredients all together and pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out dry. Cool before removing from the pan.

Serves 8.

A version of this article appeared in The Scarsdale Inquirer, January 6th