My dad’s mom’s cooking is legendary in the family. I remember her biscuits as part of a huge breakfast at family reunions. And I have heard countless stories about her Christmas fruitcake, strawberry shortcakes and chicken and dumplings.
According to my dad, Grandma was always changing recipes and methods, depending on her mood and what ingredients she had available. I am no different, nor is just about any cook I talk to. We all have that memory of the special dessert or dinner that we will never be able to recreate because we changed the recipe and forgot to take notes.
My aunt sent me a recipe a few weeks ago for Grandma’s banana bread, as dictated to her soon after she married my uncle. My aunt said she has made this banana bread this way ever since. I made it for the first time today, and I changed it just a bit. I know I should have made it as written the first time, but I just couldn’t help making a few changes.
I have a banana bread recipe that my mom made when I was growing up that used one stick of butter and three bananas to make one loaf of banana bread. And I have a recipe that Rich’s mom made when he was a kid that has one stick of butter and four bananas to make two loaves of banana bread. I also have a banana bread recipe that I like to make when I have a lot of bananas to use up (it calls for seven bananas, and no butter at all).
The recipe from my grandma, via my aunt, is different from all of those. I think it really is more of a cake than a quick bread, based on the amount of butter, sugar and eggs. I did cut back the sugar by a full cup, and I also cut back the flour by a cup. My batter was so thick that I didn’t think another cup of flour would mix in. I also omitted the nuts, which are a substantial 2 cups, because we really don’t care for the texture of nuts in banana bread. My loaves were not very tall, as you can see from the pictures, but I expected that since I left out four cups of ingredients. In hindsight, I should have used 8-inch loaf pans instead of 9-inch. Next time I might finely chop almonds or pecans and include them for another taste dimension. But I really am inclined to make it just as I did, because it is quite tasty.
As I made it, the bread (cake?) is buttery and very subtly banana flavored. To me it is plenty sweet enough and I definitely wouldn’t use any more sugar. The texture is airier than what I usually think of as banana bread. I might bake it in round layer pans or a bundt pan next time and call it a cake. It only needs a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of powdered sugar glaze to top it off. I think icing would distract from the delicate banana flavor.
I am posting the recipe as I made it, with a headnote of the original ingredient amounts as my aunt gave them to me. Feel free to experiment and post your results in the comments.
Grandma Dunehew’s Banana Bread
from The Cook’s Life
The original recipe called for shortening or margarine instead of butter, 3 cups of sugar and 4 cups of sifted flour. I didn’t sift, but stirred the flour and lightly spooned it into the measuring cup before leveling the top with the back of a knife, which is probably why I didn’t need all of the flour. The original recipe also called for only 3-4 bananas.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk or sour milk*
2 cups mashed bananas (I used 5 bananas)
2 cups chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Add flour mixture in three parts to the butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Add mashed bananas and nuts, if using, and mix well. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans (9-inch pans will give you shorter loaves, 8-inch pans will give you taller ones. You might have to bake 8-inch pans a few minutes longer). Bake 45-55 minutes. Cover pans with a loose tent of foil if they are browning too fast. Loaves are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool on racks.
*If you don’t have buttermilk, make sour milk by adding 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to ½ cup regular milk and letting it stand for a few minutes before using.