Sometimes I fancy myself a baker, and over the years I’ve experimented with many recipes. Too eager to cast off my mother’s recipe as dated or simplistic, I’ve tried banana breads with made with butter, sour cream, nuts, or spices, but they have all fallen short. Perhaps it isn’t just the recipe, but what banana bread has come to represent.
I don’t know when my mom started taking banana bread to people. We accepted that banana bread was made in quadruple batches. She would sour some milk in quart bottles, grease and flour what seemed like all the loaf pans we owned, and stir up the creamy batter in a big yellow bowl. I loved to dip my finger in that tangy and sweet batter. I remember seeing the foil-wrapped loaves lined up like little train cars along the countertop.
Then she’d drive around the neighborhood, without celebration, and place these loaves in peoples hands. Over the years, my mom had built a reputation. Neighbors brought bags of mottled bananas to encourage her generosity. Whom she chose to receive was a mystery, at least to us. But my mom has a gift for knowing when people need bread. My mother knows if I cried three days ago by looking at my face today. She shows a keen sensitivity to others, paired with a disregard for her own self. My mother, even on her most difficult days, took banana bread. Answering the quizzical looks, my mother just said, “I just thought I’d bring you some bread.”
Of all the cakes I could perfect, of all the pies I could master, of all cookies I could dream up, the highest honor I could achieve would be to perfect the baking—and spirit— of my mother’s banana bread. So thanks to her for teaching me that hat someone, somewhere, needs some banana bread. Someone needs to heft the warm loaf, lay it on their countertop, peel back the creased foil wrapping and plunge their knife into the moist, warm bread and eat half the loaf, still standing. Someone, somewhere needs this bread: soft and sweet, with a nice dark edge, unadorned, unpretentious, perfect—just like my mother.
½ c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 ½ ripe bananas, mashed
1 c. sour milk (the milk w/lemon juice or vinegar variety)
2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
1 t. baking soda
Cream shortening and sugar. Mix in egg. Stir in mashed bananas. Stir in sour milk and dry ingredients. Pour into greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 for one hour. If bread seems to be browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.