The first time I baked banana bread I was 13 and I followed the recipe I found in my dad’s ancient, crumbling Good Housekeeping. I don’t remember what inspired me to pull out those old cookbooks and flip through them. And I don’t remember why I settled on banana bread to bake that day. I hadn’t baked much at all before then. Just a little bit, in home economics class (or whatever the PC version is called these days), and when I helped my grandmother with her pies and cookies (but even then, I was more of a bystander and a taste-tester rather than anything very useful).
When my first loaf of banana bread came out of the oven I was shocked to discover that I, the daughter of a woman who has never owned a rolling pin and laughs when asked if she likes to bake, could be capable of combining flour and butter and eggs and making something edible. And not just edible – freaking delicious! Victory!
At 13, you see, it’s important to feel ownership over something in your fragile, young life. At 13, so much of what happens to you is beyond your control. Life can be intimidating at best, despairingly overwhelming at worst. So to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with carrying out and completing a project – especially one so delicious as banana bread – is everything. Suddenly, I was useful. I was talented. I could contribute to the happiness of those around me. I could do something even my mother couldn’t!
If I could tell my 13-year-old banana-bread-baking self one thing, it would be this: “Little do you know, dear, awkward, braces-ridden girl, but that banana bread is going to make you a lot of friends.”
I’ve found, since that day over a decade ago, that a baked good is a powerful thing. It’s something you can share with friends at a summer pick-up soccer game, something to say “I hope you get better soon,” an inexpensive but thoughtful Christmas gift, or an excuse to invite the boy you like to come help you bake (and then win him over with your cinnamon and sugar-filled charms).
In a time when talk is cheap and time is money, there’s something to be said for spending a couple hours in the kitchen away from it all, getting your hands dirty with flour and making something out of nothing. There’s something to be said for inviting a new friend over to your home under the pretext of baking banana bread together, and finding out that you’ve got a lot more in common than just the love of mushy bananas.
So as long as there are friends to be made, I will bake banana bread. Of that I’m sure. What I’m not sure of, however, is what I’ll do with myself once my roommate and I (and her beautiful mint-green KitchenAid mixer) no longer live together.
1 cup plus 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 c. white sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 c. mashed very ripe bananas (3 to 4)
1/3 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/3 c. butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a larger mixer bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add banana, applesauce, butter, and milk. Beat til blended (on low speed) then on high speed for two minutes. Add eggs, remaining flour, vanilla, and cinnamon; beat til blended. Pour batter into greased loaf pan. Sprinkle with oats if you wish. Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes or til toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove and cool on wire rack.