Grandma’s Banana Bread

4 Feb

I come from a long line of good cooks. My grandmother was not exactly one of them. She was a pretty good baker, but her general cooking? Eh, sawdust pork isn’t my favorite. Her banana bread, however, was delicious.

She had  a habit of keeping little notebooks everywhere. In these notebooks were everything from phone numbers to measurements for a pattern to doctor appointments to recipes to anything. Often, she had more than one of these going at once. She didn’t have a central notebook or book where she kept her recipes. When she died and I went through everything, I collected the notebooks I could and scoured them for the banana bread recipe. I found every other recipe she ever used or clipped out of a magazine, but not that one.

I’ve been trying many banana bread recipes since then, trying to replicate Grandma’s. They all were good, but not the same. I knew the flavor and texture I was going for.

My mom recently passed along a couple of cookbooks, one of hers and one of my grandfather’s. There are recipes and stuff scrawled over the inside covers and blank pages of both of them, but imagine my surprise when I happened upon this in Grandma’s 70’s copy of the Joy of Cooking:

In case you can’t quite make it out, here is the simple recipe:

1 cup Shortening or 2 cubes margarine, 1/4 tea salt, 4 eggs, 2 cups sugar, 4 cups flour, 2 tea (baking) soda, 6 bananas, 1 cup nuts

Bake at 375*, 1 hour – Put all in bowl and beat hell out of it

When I read the instructions, I literally laughed out loud. These are the sort of instructions I write for MY recipes. I’m more, um, vulgar. My grandmother hardly ever swore, but when she did it was a terse and shrill “wellSHIT!” that meant your day was likely going to hell.

But! For the sake of family recipe preservation, I decided to make it exactly as written, going totally against all of my training and instincts.

First off, this makes a lot of freaking banana bread. Air Force wife, you know. I realized about halfway through that my two bread pans were probably not going to do the job, but went on anyway. Grandma always did two flattish loaves, but she must have halved it.

Also, I was taken aback by the sheer amount of fat and sugar just wantonly thrown into a quickbread. And that’s when I knew the crunchies were getting to me. It can’t all be egg-free, whole wheat, probiotic, rainbow spouting loving whole food, now can it? Sometimes we need some cake disguised as a bread for breakfast.

Moving on.

I did make one concession to culinary knowledge: I mixed the soda, salt and flour first and added it to the wet stuff.

My mixer, Julia, beating the hell out of it, as it were.

Yes, my mixer has a name. She lives on the counter, doesn’t she? It’s a place of honor.

I loaded two alarmingly full bread pans into the alarmingly hot oven. This is what I had after 20 minutes:


I knew they were going to burn. Committed to my cause, I just threw foil over it and turned down the oven a touch. And hovered. And poked. And said “wellSHIT!” a lot.

Love you, grandma.

Yep, they burned. This is what I was left with at an hour and 20, when the skewer test finally came back clean. I had a childhood memory of always having dark banana bread. They were still perfectly edible, if not a bit dry.

So, changes I will make next time: Cream together shortening and sugar, then add eggs, then add bananas, then add a tsp of vanilla, then add the mixed together dry stuff, and beat it only until it whines a little bit. Probably then put into 3 or 4 pans, and maybe even bake at a lower temperature. I want to keep the integrity of the recipe I’ve searched for for years.


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