01 February 2010

Family recipe Monday: bananas

It's hard for me to realize just how exotic bananas were to my great-grandmother and her generation in Arkansas and Oklahoma. I find myself wondering when they first became available, how costly they were, and how they got to the dry rural areas for the first few years. They were a breath-taking luxury. Naturally, they were not to be wasted, so there were soon recipes for using the older, softer, overripe ones in cooking.

Banana nut bread is a classic teabread, a dense, sweet bread leavened with baking powder or baking soda, or both. Teabreads were kept on hand for dessert and for company. It was unthinkable to receive a visitor without providing refreshment as part of the hospitality.

I have two versions of banana nut bread in the Simple Gifts family recipe files. The first one is above. It is lovely and delicious, but not exactly heart-healthy. You can experiment with the fat and egg proportions and substitutions to your satisfaction.

Banana nut bread
½ cup Crisco
1 ½ cups sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp [baking] soda
1/2 tsp salt
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup nuts

Bake at 350 F.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Another recipe with cryptic directions. I cream the Crisco, sugar and eggs, mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, mash the bananas, and combine everything in that order: creamed, dry, wet, mashed. This is for hand-mixing; I change the order for the kitchen mixer.

Here is a second, similar version.

Banana nut bread

½ cup Crisco
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, one at a time

Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, ¼ tsp. salt. Add to first mixture. Add 2 cups mashed bananas, ½ cup chopped nuts, 1 tsp. vanilla. Bake at 350 F.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

The result either way is a rich teabread with that unmistakable banana fragrance.
Notice that there is no time for baking given. That's something else you're just supposed to know, apparently. Banana nut bread will rise a bit in the oven and needs to bake thoroughly, or else the interior will be soggy. I usually give this 30 uninterrupted minutes--that is a low temperature; it's going to take a while--and then test for doneness with a cake straw or pie pin every 5 minutes or so. This needs to cool thoroughly in the loaf pan (you did use a bread loaf pan, right?) before being removed. Wrapped and refrigerated, it will last a long time, and will be there when visitors next show up on the horizon. It reheats beautifully in a low oven; never microwave it. I like it with Earl Grey tea and cold grey weather. Right now, I have all three on hand in abundance.
Finally, here is another one from the old days. This is one of my great-grandmother's specialties and favorites, I understand. I have not changed the measurements or directions.
Cressie cake with hot banana topping

1 ½ cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 ½ cups shortening
2 rounding tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups sour milk
1 level tsp soda
4 eggs
pinch of salt

2 cups sugar, enough sweet milk to wet well and butter the size of an egg. Let boil and add 1 T flour and 2 T sugar mixed together. Let this boil until thickness desired is reached. Use mashed bananas for banana filling.
--Mary Marcella Walker Brooks. Cressie was a cousin of the family who provided the recipe.

You are supposed to know how to make the cake, for goodness sake. The tricky part was the filling/topping. It seems that bananas were optional, but, if you had them, you used them, however much you had. This can be either a 2-layer or a sheet cake, with that lovely hot banana mixture lavished on top and between the layers. This was a family favorite.
Happy Monday. If you make any of these, do let us know how they turn out.

1 comment:

Butterfly said...

Happy National Banana Bread Day! I look forward to trying the recipes! Was hoping to find out when bananas became widely available in this country from the Dole "Encyclopedia of Fruits & Veggies" but it didn't say. I did learn, however, that Americans eat an average of 28 pounds of bananas (about 112 bananas) per person per year. I like bananas, but I am apparently behind the curve on that one! Anyhow, thanks for the recipes, and for your fascinating blog - it was a treat to find it!