When I started this project my mom sent me a stack of her old recipe cards. Some of those cards were given to her or written for her by her mother shortly after she got married. My mom got married very young and she admits she had a lot to learn in a very short time about being an adult and taking care of a household. She had to learn how to cook and provide for her new family on the fly, so a lot of these older recipes represent her early days learning her way around a kitchen and trying to emulate the dishes my grandmother made. The original recipe card (shown below) is written in my grandmother’s handwriting and delivered in a sort of shorthand with the assumption that she could talk my mom through the process. In all likelihood, my grandmother learned this recipe from her mom as well. So this really is my mother’s Banana Bread as handed down to her from my grandmother, who learned from my great-grandmother.
Banana Bread is a relatively new American recipe, coming into popularity after the Great Depression. Bananas in the US were fairly rare prior to the advent of commercial refrigeration around the turn of the century. Prior to that, it was just too hard to ship this fragile, quick-ripening tropical fruit with much success. Once bananas became more common, they were more of a novelty and used in recipes as decoration. After the crash in 1929, the average American household was forced to put every scrap of food to use. At the same time, quickbreads became popular with the new availability of shelf-stable mass-produced chemical leaveners like baking powder and baking soda. This led cookbook and commercial recipe writers to come up with a variety of Banana Quickbread and Banana-Nut Loaf recipes.
One of the original Banana-Nut Bread recipes published in the 1930s “My New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book” was very similar to my mother’s. In the original 1930s recipe, the loaf was made more hearty and filling by use of wheat bran. It also included a touch of vanilla (which I think is a good addition). Published Banana Bread recipes have changed with the times and each decade sort of has its own spin on it. By comparison, my mom’s recipe remains fairly true to the original 1930s Banana Bread recipes.
I don’t think our family was very big on bananas. I seem to recall not having bananas around all the time and when we did it was pretty common that they would become overripe before we would make our way through a bunch. I do remember adding slices of banana to my morning cereal once in a while. I think it is safe to say, if we had bananas we would end up making banana bread. Still, I don’t remember this being made all that often. It was more of a treat that would be made once in a while. And though we may not have been huge fans of bananas, we all loved banana bread.
I’ve had my mother’s banana bread and my grandmother’s banana bread and there all subtle differences. Maybe it was cooking time, or slight adjustments in the ingredients. I do believe my grandmother added nuts, usually walnuts, to hers. My mom never liked nuts in breads like this, so she omitted them. Nuts or not, this is a super simple recipe and a good way to use up those bananas that have sat around a bit too long. Don’t ignore your great-grandmother’s Depression Era sensibilities…it’s better to bake them than to toss them!
- 1¾ cup Flour
- 2 tsp Baking powder
- ⅓ cup Shortening (or butter, or oil)
- ⅔ cup Sugar
- 2 whole Eggs
- 1 cup Mashed ripe bananas
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and whisk together until well incorporated.
- Spray, grease, or flour a standard bread pan.
- Pour mixture into the bread pan and place in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes.
- Start checking for doneness around the
45 minutemark. It is done when you can stab it with a toothpick and the toothpick comes out clean.
Original Recipe Card
I have made this banana bread a few times over the years. I’ve tried substituting butter and oil for the shortening with mixed results. Butter alone tends to result in a dry, crumbly bread. Oil alone tends to not set up or rise as much as I’d like. Shortening works well enough, but it really needs roughly double the banana in it to get the moisture level right. That is how I normally make it now, using vegetable shortening and around 2 cups of mashed ripe banana.