Monday, September 14, 2009

Bananas - they ripen in the blink of an eye

The banana is a cunning fruit. Deceptively alluring when you see them on the grocery store shelf – all nice and evenly yellow, showing the perfect state of ripeness with a firm texture without the chalky taste that comes with an underripe banana and without the mushy texture of an overly ripe banana. You buy a bunch and take them home, savoring that first one and effectively being lured into its deception. Because once you take your eye off that bunch of bananas and blink, somehow they manage to ripen. And ripen. Then ripen some more. Those once perfect yellow bananas with nary a blemish all of a sudden start showing brown spots. Oh, just a few at first, lulling you into thinking you still have time to eat them before they get too mushy. But then you blink again and now they’re more brown than yellow and the spots are ever bigger and the skin is not only no longer yellow but it’s also turning soft and seemingly getting thinner. You know if you peel that sucker, all you’ll get is mush and that overripe aftertaste in your mouth. Suddenly, they’re not fit for eating and they’re taking up smelly space on your countertop.

I’m convinced some exasperated yet thrifty person came up with the idea of banana bread. I can’t bear to throw overripe bananas out. I know I won’t eat them as is but I was raised not to waste food and it’s unconscionable to throw them out. Banana bread is the perfect way to use up those overripe bananas. Not only that but bananas must be overripe to the point of blackened skins and mushy-near-liquid insides to make really flavorful and moist banana bread. What you can’t eat straight is perfect for baking. I love bananas but when I can’t eat the overripe ones, banana bread is a perfectly acceptable use of them in baked goods (another exception to my I-don’t-like-fruity-desserts mantra). Now, I welcome the banana’s cunning artlessness of ripening before my eyes faster than I can consume them. I even deliberately buy more bananas than I can eat so that I can use what will become overripe ones to bake with. And if they ripen and I don’t have time to bake with them? No problem – just throw them in a freezer bag and deposit in the freezer until you’re ready. Careful what you put next to them though as the banana essence lives in the freezer and could permeate its taste and odor to whatever’s next to it.

This banana bread recipe is from my friend, Petra , who was one of my housemates at Asher House Berkeley when I was an undergrad. Back then, Petra was recently from her home country of Germany and affectionately known as “Kraut” by her fellow Asherites. Always smiling, always cheerful, Petra was a gem. She got this banana bread recipe from a friend of hers and it’s one I’ve used for years. It ranks with my recipes that not only have stood the test of time but I don’t feel the need to experiment with a bunch of different banana bread recipes because nothing really tops this one. Note its simplicity – just bananas. No nuts, no raisins, pineapple, apple or any other fancy things people add (much like carrot cake can be ruined – don’t ruin a good banana bread by adding too much “stuff” to it!). My mom likes nuts in her bread so sometimes I make a concession to her and place toasted nuts ON TOP of the loaf before baking but that’s the closest I’ll get to putting nuts in a quick bread.

The directions are sparse as that’s how I got the recipe but it’s not hard to figure out. The best thing you can do is use overripe bananas and take it from there. These freeze very well and I’m forever baking them as mini loaves and giving the loaves away as gifts.

1 7/8 cups flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup butter
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 large eggs
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350°F.
2. Combine dry ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients until batter is moistened.
3. Pour into greased loaf pans or muffin cups (about half full). Bake until desired doneness. Cover loosely with aluminum foil if top is getting too brown before bread is done.

1 comment:

  1. Carol - sounds yummy and I like my banana bread simple, but I do like nuts (pecans) - gives it an extra nice flavor!