Everyone is baking banana bread at the moment. This may appear surprising- after all, its widespread allure is not immediately apparent. However, given the history of banana bread as the food of the Great Depression, perhaps we are all simply following the trends of our ancestors nearly a century ago.
During that time, housewives had not wanted to waste bananas, especially when they were so expensive, and so made this treat. It has been widely accepted now that with the sudden closure of businesses, and with even online transactions limited, the world is now tumbling into recession, if not yet depression. However many days into self-isolation you are, by this point the Big Shop you did (without stockpiling, of course) at the start of quarantine has begun to be depleted, and the bananas you bought have started to brown. Alongside the financial difficulties many are starting to face at the moment, to start to save products such as bananas is probably a wise idea.
Another reason why banana bread rose to popularity around the 1930s is because baking soda/power manufacturers were becoming widely available, inspiring cookbook writers. Amongst the many things that keep me up at night, the reason why it is called banana bread has frequently troubled me. It’s called a bread, but I have never seen anyone put any savoury items, like marmite, on it, and it is too sugary to really require any layering of honey or jam. Occasionally it has been toasted and buttered, but that feels like an unusual way to present such a food. It is too dense to have the texture of a cake sponge, but is not a sandwich bread. You will relieved to learn that its origins lie in the fact that it was marketed as a banana “quick bread”, because of the baking powder, rather than yeast bread, with its hours of proving.
Alongside the need to save bananas, we have reached a point in quarantine where people maybe will start to want to be creative, and baking is the perfect form of that self-expression. It is less taxing than creative writing, and requires much less preparation than photo shoots, as well as being less frustrating than painting. Admittedly to achieve a final product which is gratifying from those mediums requires considerable time: banana bread does not. In 60 minutes one can go from conception to perfection on a plate.
Another beautiful thing about banana bread is that it is so versatile. You can have it plaim in all its glory: the saviour of sports day, the king of rainy days. Nigella herself has made one, and it looks just as fabulous as one can expect.
What is an absolute abomination is courgette banana bread, or “zucchini banana bread”. No one is making banana bread expecting it to be healthy; there is an ungodly amount of sugar and butter in there to go anywhere near an Instagram fitness influencer with their notions of “health”. So to pollute it with such a vegetable is uncalled for:
The creator of this version remarks that “it’s practically a salad” with “pretty flecks of green and orange”. First of all, that recipe has an entire cup of sugar in it, which would not be problematic, except that no self-respecting salad should have that ingredient. Secondly, nobody wants to see green spots in their banana bread; it normally signals that there is mould. People are not looking for a meal replacement in their banana bread- so do not try to make it healthy. Let desserts be desserts!
Then there is the cinnamon-bun banana bread, a concept which as an avid consumer of both is mildly offensive, since two mighty forces should never meet for fear of weakening the potency of both parties.
Another member of the banana bread family is the Browned Butter Maple Banana Bread: I found this recipe on Olive and Artisan, and it looks like the perfect way to trigger a heart attack.
In an age where we are all told to accept ourselves, this bread has accepted its super-sugary nature, and embraced it. That is what we like to see, in ourselves and our food.
Then there is bacon banana bread.
This version, from Around My Table, is upsetting. First of all, why would anyone add bacon. Courgette is awful enough, but bacon- bacon is just so wrong. It is not a “health” food, so cannot be justified for that reason. It does not even taste good with bananas. One should not tamper with the original formula unless there is a good reason, and this is not it. Quarantine and self-isolation may be taking its toll on people psychologically, but if you are baking this kind of creation, you should examine yourself very carefully. What is even more distressing is it contains:
- 1 box yellow cake mix (or 2 boxes GF yellow cake mix)
- 2 eggs
- 4 ripe bananas *
- 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
This is too much. BANANA BREAD IS NOT HARD TO MAKE. There is no need to use “yellow” cake mix. I understand that not everybody has the time or resources to make banana bread themselves. I completely understand that. But this is a cookery website, and how am I meant to take this person seriously if they cannot even add flour, sugar and oil eggs together themselves instead of buying it in a package?
Finally, I mentioned earlier that the original banana bread should be altered with caution. In this instance, it is completely worth it to add chocolate chips. Chocolate chip banana bread is delightful. Perfect picnic-worthy material. Unbeatable. As long as the chips haven’t sunk downwards, but have an even-spread throughout- lest there be a soggy bottom- life is good.
So, by all means, make banana bread at this uncertain time, but remember to experiment with care.