Project Quarantine: Stress-Baking Banana Bread From a Mid-Century Church Cookbook
Take out your pandemic anxieties on some overripe fruit
No offense, but you’re probably not cool enough to bake bread right now.
I know this because I am also not cool enough to bake bread right now. After first gaining popularity among an exclusive circle of New York media types last summer, baking bread from scratch has since spread to the masses, quickly becoming the official hobby of the cool kids of the pandemic — the quarantine version of smoking behind the gym or whatever cool people were doing in high school, which I have no way of knowing.
In an attempt to explain why everyone on your timeline is baking bread at the moment, multiple outlets have offered explanations as to why we find baking so soothing in times of stress. As with any trend, the explainers were inevitable, but the most obvious benefits of baking in our current era of coronavirus chaos don’t really need an in-depth explanation. Baking is a fun, low-commitment distraction, it’s inherently rewarding, and it makes you feel productive without really having to put in much effort.
But since the cool kids have the monopoly on bread baking, you and I and the rest of the quarantine have-nots will just have to settle for baking banana bread, which, while less cool, is easier and potentially more delicious than bread-bread.
That’s because banana bread isn’t really bread at all. Yes, it’s shaped like bread, but so is meatloaf for some reason. Technically, banana bread falls under the category of “quick breads,” which, for all intents and purposes, are just cakes baked in the shape of a loaf. They’re typically sweet and they don’t use yeast, meaning you don’t have to wait for them to rise, hence the whole “quick” part.
My go-to banana bread recipe is still the same one I’ve used since childhood, when my mom would let me stand on a chair in front of the kitchen counter and mash the bananas. (Once my fine motor skills had sufficiently developed, I eventually graduated to mixing the dry ingredients.) Called “Aunt Gertie’s Banana Bread,” the recipe appears in an old-school church cookbook given to my mother by my father’s late grandmother.
I don’t have an Aunt Gertie, nor, to the best of my knowledge, does anyone else in my family. But a certain Alice Anderson, who submitted the recipe to the cookbook compiled by the Women’s Association of the First Congregational Church of Douglas, Massachusetts in 1968, presumably did.
Like any authentic mid-century cookbook, this one is filled with a lot of weird shit. Along with the expected if inexplicable proliferation of Jell-O molds, Jell-O salads, and other things calling themselves salads that also somehow incorporate Jell-O, there are also cakes made with Coca-Cola, suet puddings, something called “Blueberry Boy Bait,” and the “Best Ever Beet Ring Salad” (yes, it involves Jell-O).
And that’s just the food. The first 30 or so pages are dedicated to such oddities as the “Every Day Herb Guide,” suggested diets based on your ideal weight, a handy table to tell you what that ideal weight is, tips for removing various stains from “washables,” as well as a convenient guide telling you “Where to look in the Bible” based on specific moods and conundrums, such as “when worries oppress you.” (The answer, apparently, is Matthew 6.)
Yes, religion is weird and people used to be way too into Jell-O, but Aunt Gertie’s banana bread holds up. I baked it yesterday for the first time in years and got to feel, for a moment, like a kid gleefully mashing bananas instead of a confused adult in an ever-worsening global crisis.
So if worries are oppressing you, which I’d be willing to hazard they probably are, I recommend ditching the Bible and taking your anxiety out on some overripe fruit instead.
Aunt Gertie’s Banana Bread
½ cup shortening (you can also just use butter because this isn’t 1968 and what is shortening)
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream shortening (or butter) and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour, soda and salt. Stir in bananas and vanilla. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake one hour at 350 degrees.
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