Bananas taunt me. I am sure of it. I have memories, countless memories of this fetid fruit in bunches, in all stages of rot malingering in dusty wooden bowls. Perhaps the worst is stumbling upon a rogue fruit blackened and insolent, lying in precious wait within a darkened backpack, glove compartment or under a pile of mail. You see I was banana bludgeoned at a young age by my mother. Our small kitchen table was almost always eclipsed by two enormous bunches of 29 cents/lb specimens. I’m not sure which was worse, watching my mother skin and plop the mottled pulp into a plastic bag from their bleathery rinds or opening up the freezer door to find bags stretched to their limit with dead lumps of grey toned matter. No difference, at an early age this tropical excess translated into one dreadful concoction which changed my culinary sensibilities forever- Banana Bologna.
Now you need to understand, this is my name for it. In ordinary terms it is simply known as banana bread. In my intro post I hinted at collision #1 which occurred during my childhood. Banana Bologna is most definitely the lovechild of this lively intersection and the collision that I refer to is growing up Asian American in a predominantly white suburb. At this moment I need to describe how I believe this bread was breathed into its extraordinary existence.
Ma mere is a force of nature. A compact petite woman, I have watched her take out container after bowl full of food from the fridge, spread it all before her on the table as if it were a giant placemat and roto-root right through it as if it were nothing. Everything about her is larger than life. Completely emotive and free in expression she can fly from focused diligence with laser like intensity to ebullient peals of laughter in a nano-second. A woman of extremes, restraint is a strait jacket that she won’t be caught wearing anytime soon. So take a passionate woman who isn’t interested in subtlety or precision and unleash her upon an unsuspecting quick bread recipe and you get the beginnings of Banana Bologna. If three ripe bananas are good, then ten are stupendous. And as any basic baker can predict, there is no hope for the powers of a leavening agent against a squadron of banana; the resultant, a dense grey rubbery mat devoid of crumb, lift or lilt.
Banana Bologna should have been the least of my problems, but it was the problem. It was the dead give-away, the pink elephant in the room, the neon strobe light that proclaimed and confirmed my outsider status in a society that I wished to discreetly disappear into. While this cursed creation stood in stark contrast to the polite bread of my friends’ mothers, my own mother was probably congratulating herself for inventing something that reminded her of ttuk, a traditional Korean rice flour cake of her homeland. Banana Bologna was her response to my Campfire Girl obligation to share a snack at monthly meetings and I was the sacrificial lamb nudged forward into presenting this offering to my weirded out fire mates. My young ego couldn’t take the assault of too much attention and in less than a year, I quit.
Thankfully the story does not end here. Through the passage of at least two decades my own perspective has transformed with a smattering of wisdom, a pinch of humor and chutzpah I didn’t know I possessed. While the cloying banapple-y smell still curls my nerve endings, the banana re-education has occurred and I have learned to enjoy this comical fruit in measured doses. I am all up for banana splits with Chunky Monkey ice cream. I will globetrot for plantain chips and swoon on occasion for banana cream pie. I even went so far as to marry a banana enthusiast. But my appreciation and now affection for banana goes deeper. It reminds me of my beautiful, fiery, resourceful, soulfully creative mother. Many of the traits that stirred into the mix then are the ones that I have called upon to craft, compose, beautify and resurrect my own life. This one is for you Mom.
Nana’s Banana Bread:
This recipe makes the best banana bread I have ever eaten. It is super moist, super banana-y and has a sprite spongy interior and a slightly crunchy exterior. It was introduced to me by an angel of a woman who incidentally never baked anything other than this bread. Also, I have taken great liberties with this recipe. I tend not to measure out the banana pulp, but 4 good sized bananas give good flavor. Be forewarned, it is kind of soupy and can take awhile to bake especially with more pulp.
5 tblsp butter
½ c granulated sugar
½ c brown sugar
1 egg at room temperature
2 egg whites whipped soft peaks
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ c banana puree
1 ¾ c flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ c heavy cream
½ c toasted walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat brown and white sugar into softened butter until fluffy. Incorporate egg, vanilla and banana until just mixed. Fold in egg whites. In a separate bowl sift all dry ingredients. Gently fold in ½ dry into wet. Then repeat with remaining dry. Lastly stir in cream and walnuts. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake about an hour or until toothpick comes out clean.