How I learned to love bananas
Even today, I am no great fan of eating bananas plain. But I find it very easy to tuck away baked goods made from them, thanks to my neighbour’s homemade banana bread.
I was not an easy child. I guess you could say that I was fearful, but that alone doesn’t adequately capture it. I was born with my hands over my ears, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. Any sort of loud noise’thunder, vacuum cleaners, backfire from cars’made me cry as though on cue. But it wasn’t only noise. I was also morbidly afraid of blood, needles, and people with any type of visible injury. Also, my head was enormous. I wound up in tears every time my mother tried to wedge it through a turtleneck. I was not a fun, happy-go-lucky kid, the kind who sticks her hand in the birthday cake and smears frosting all over her smocked dress. My parents, as you can imagine, were quite disappointed by this. On my first birthday, my mother carefully set the whole scene: me in my high chair, enormous cake on the tray in front of me, camera poised and ready. But I wouldn’t touch the frosting, not even with a fingertip. And, on top of all that, I also hated bananas. Kids are supposed to love bananas. When all else fails, that, at least, is supposed to be easy.
My parents did their best. To ease her mind, my mother once consulted a psychic. The psychic said that I was a "new soul," that this was my first time on earth, so quite naturally I was fearful. This didn’t explain the turtleneck problem, but still, it was something.
But new soul, old soul, if the me of twenty-five years ago could see what’s in my freezer right now, she would scream. Lurking within its icy depths are no fewer than six ripe bananas, hard and frosty-skinned, lying in wait like small, shriveled snakes. It’s like a stockpile of tropical fruit terror. And what’s more, I love it. Growing up really is great.
I’m not exactly sure of the chain of events that led to my conversion, but I do know that it started with a banana nut bread made by Linda Paschal, the mother of my childhood friend Jennifer. The Paschals lived in the house diagonally behind ours, and our families became friendly when Jennifer and I, then five and three, heard each other playing in our respective backyards. Not long after, our fathers built a gate through the fence, and we spent the next several years running back and forth from one house to the other, playing with my plastic toy ponies, staging elaborate lip-synch performances to Juice Newton’s "Angel of the Morning," and eating, as it would happen, her mother’s banana bread. Such is Linda’s talent with quick breads that not even I could resist. Her banana bread was a model of the species: moist, tender, and spotted with walnuts. It was soulful and persuasive, familiar and softly scented, like the nape of a baby’s neck. I have thought of it often in the years since, wondering if it shouldn’t be produced en masse, sold in drugstores, and fed to anyone in need of calming.
Of course, it would take many doses of Linda’s banana bread before I was solidly on board with bananas, and even today, I am no great fan of eating them plain. But I find it very easy to tuck away baked goods made from them. Sometimes I buy bunches of bananas just to bring them home and let them go brown. There’s something profoundly reassuring about having a bunch at the ready, ripe and speckled and on the verge of stink. It’s like hoarding gold bullion, only this type of gold needs to be kept in the freezer or else it will start to rot. I love to bake with bananas. They make baked goods miraculously moist, with a sort of sweet, wholesome perfume that, I sometimes imagine, Betty Crocker herself might have worn.
If I didn’t watch myself, I would probably dump mashed bananas into anything that held still long enough to let me. I cannot have too much banana cake with chocolate ganache spread over the top, or too many banana-scented bran muffins. But my standby banana vehicle is the one that started me down the road in the first place: the tried-and-true, the humble loaf called banana bread.
I love the classic banana-nut combination, just like Linda Paschal used to make. But I also like my banana bread with more exotic additions, like shredded coconut or dark rum, and my all-time favourite is a plucky variation involving chocolate and crystallized ginger. It’s a formula I stumbled upon a few years ago, with the help of my friend Kate.
One Saturday morning, when Kate met up with her usual running buddy Glenn, he handed her a present. It was heavy and rectangular and wrapped in foil, and when she tore into it, she found a loaf of homemade banana bread flecked with chocolate chips and chewy ginger. Had I been Kate, I probably would have hidden it away and hoarded it, but lucky for us all, she is a better person. That night, she invited me to dinner, and after big bowls of mussels and a baguette, she whipped a carton of cream and served me a thick slice of the cakelike bread with a dollop on top. And then, bless her heart, she didn’t even bat an eyelash when I ate three slices. In fact, she nearly matched me at two and a half and may have outdone me in cream consumption.
These days, I bake banana bread all the time, and I usually do it as Glenn did, with chocolate and ginger. It’s homey but a little sophisticated, and it’s almost impossible to stop eating. The flavours of banana and chocolate get along so well, and ginger makes them even better, cutting through their richness with its spicy heat. It’s the kind of thing that begs to be cut into big, melty slices while the loaf is still hot.
I am still not sure how I feel about turtlenecks and thunder, but I’m willing to bet that, with enough banana bread, I could find a way to warm to them, too.
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