Going Bananas for Banana Bread

If you’re like me you always seen to have over-ripe bananas around the kitchen. Until recently they would end up in the compost, but now thanks to my growing collection of vintage cookbooks I have a wealth of banana bread recipes that call for 2-3 bananas for baking. I’ve got two good tasting, healthy, and easy recipes to share with you, plus some fun history about how bananas came into our cooking culture.

A Victorian Banana Boat

A Victorian Banana Boat

Introduced to Americans in the 1870s, bananas were an expensive delicacy which you wanted to show off on your dining room table in your cut glass banana boat. Our bananas are kept in the kitchen along with other fruit and are a cheap staple, but to the wealthy Victorians who could afford them, bananas were displayed in all their glory on the dining room table as a form of ostentation.

Early banana recipes from my cookbooks include banana salad, banana fritters, banana custard, banana cantaloupe (no cantaloupes involved, just shaped like one), banana ice cream, and bananas baked or sauted (all dated 1896 from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book). Many of my early cook books have no recipes at all.

It was not until the 1930s during the Depression that Banana Bread became popular. There is a story floating around that a housewife needing to make money came up with the recipe, but I’m not sure its an accurate story, as there seems to be no documentation on who she was and exactly when this occurred.

My Hotpoint Electric Range Cookbook

My Hotpoint Electric Range Cookbook

The earliest recipe The Food Timeline found is from 1933 created by the Pillsbury Flour Mills Company which obviously had a stake in keeping people baking. Looking through my cookbook collection this history does hold true. Prior to 1933, I find no recipes for banana bread. But I have one exactly from 1933!

The first recipe I tried however, was from the cookbook, Recipes for your Hotpoint Electric Range. Although the book isn’t dated, an internet search shows its from c. 1950. I chose the recipe as I was looking for one with a little something different to make it stand apart – in this case the addition of bran. That, with the nuts, makes it really a very modern recipe that could easily be from the hippy days of the 60s/70s.

The recipe has all the hallmarks of what makes Banana Bread beloved by housewives since it’s inception – easy to make, quick, fool proof, and delicious. Plus it gives the baker, who may not be the most accomplished of chefs, a sense of accomplishment for baking something from scratch! This is also why Banana Breads took America by storm again in the 1960s as people began baking again.

Here’s the recipe:

Banana Bread Batter

Banana Bread Batter

Indgredients

  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3-4 bananas)
  • 1/4 cup melted shortening (I used butter)
  • 1 cup bran
  • 1/2 cup broken nuts (I used walnuts)
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine egg, bananas, melted (and cooled) shortening, bran and nuts; mix well.
  3. Sift together remaining dry ingredients.
  4. Add to banana mixture, mixing just enough to dampen flour.
  5. Turn into well-greased bread pan (8 1.2 x 4 1/2 x 3″).
  6. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until bread is done
Finished Banana Bread

Finished Banana Bread

Dan and I both loved the texture and taste of this Banana Bread, finding it moist, but with an added texture from the bran that gave it a very rich and complex flavor.

I next tried another version that used whole wheat flour, which gave an interesting twist to a Banana Bread Muffin recipe. This recipe is from the Every Homemaker’s Cook Book. Written in 1939 by Fanny Engle at the end of the Depression and with World War II looming, Fanny was espousing whole wheat in several recipes for baking your own bread both for health and economy.

While researching this rather rare cook book, I found a few tantalizing nuggets of information about the author, Fanny Engle, that made me ache to learn more about her. After publishing two general cookbooks, this one in 1939 and one called The Fannie Engles Cookbook in 1946, she began to specialize in Jewish cookbooks. She published two seminal Jewish cookbooks which remained in print through the 1970s, The Jewish Festival Cookbook (1954) and The Jewish Holidays and Their Favorite Foods (1958).

In her Every Homemaker’s Cook Book, she has an interesting recipe for Banana Whole Wheat Muffins that caught my eye. Please note that this recipe calls for a lot of bananas – not just your left overs so plan ahead and let quite a few go extra ripe on purpose!

Every Homemaker's Cook Book

Every Homemaker's Cook Book

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups bananas, ripe and mashed (4-5)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup melted shortening (I used butter)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar thoroughly.
  3. Beat the egg and set aside.
  4. Mash the bananas with a fork and combine with the egg, milk and melted shortening.
  5. Add the egg and banana mixture to the flour mixture mixing only enough to dampen all the flour.
  6. Turn into well-greased muffin pans
  7. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until muffins are done.

Yield: makes 24 small muffins

This recipe tasted moist, which is what you want in a Banana Bread, and the whole wheat flour gave it a pleasing depth of character and richness you don’t normally find in Banana Bread. Dan especially liked these muffins and having your Banana Bread in muffin form is kind of fun and different.

Next week we will explore banana cake – a whole new use for those bananas!

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