The smell of my mother’s baked goods would draw kids in off the street like the living dead, single basketball rolling off into the gutter, kite sailing off on the wind unattended.
We’d gather in the doorway to the kitchen as she sashayed across the tiles, whisking. Drool pooling at our feet as the steam rose off whatever fresh confection sat cooling on a wire rack. It is with great discomfort that I look back on my high school and middle school days and try to honestly consider how many of the kids that attended my sleepovers were only there because my mom was going to bake something. The regular repetition of the words, “Hey, do you think your mom will make cookies tonight,” doesn’t do much to calm my fears. I can’t say that I blame them, though.
A baker in this era of Oreos and Twinkies is a rare and intoxicating thing and the experience of sinking your teeth into something that, only moments ago, was nothing but a soupy mess is nothing short of magical. Many of my friends were faced with the realization that the things they thought they loved were just two-dimensional imposters of true bliss. Chips Ahoy cookie halves didn’t reach for one another with gooey chocolate arms when you pulled them apart. Wonder Bread didn’t have a crackly golden crust, or drink up butter. The distinctness of the smell and the feel and the flavor, all piled in a tin on the counter, made by a woman who lived in our house. It’s a miracle that any of them ever went home.
I’m not saying that my friends parents never baked. It’s just that the circumstances and quality were different. For most of my friends, there were occasions on which the oven was turned on. Usually around Christmas time, or on someone’s birthday and even then, the cake came out of a box, and the cookies came out of a tube.
Not at the Burden house, though.
At the Burden house, seeing flour on the counter didn’t mean it was a holiday. I mean, sure, she did Christmas cookies and Thanksgiving pies. She’d roll out some coffee cake on Easter and cake on a birthday. But Sunday’s came with Irish soda bread and the weekdays were peppered with all kinds of exotic doughs and confections, most of which started as powders and liquids and rose up golden beneath a glowing coil.
Of all the delights that came to life in that kitchen, one in particular always hit the spot. It was a dessert, it was breakfast, it was perfect. Mom would break out the loaf tins and the kitchen would fill with the sweet perfume of bananas and heat. My eyes would snap open in the twinkly light of morning and my stomach would snarl like a caged dog because it was banana bread day in the Burden house.
Banana bread first made an appearance in the United States in the 1930s, and it was the product of several new developments of the time. The first was reliable refrigeration, which allowed for the import of bananas to places that you couldn’t get them before. The second was chemical leaveners like baking powder, which could take the place of yeast, and heralded the creation of “quick-breads”. The final major instigator for this sweet and versatile treat, was the Great Depression, which was responsible for many innovations in food on the part of hardscrabble homemakers who had to make do. Mothers couldn’t afford to throw out a banana just because it looked like Matthew McConaughey anymore, so they mushed those sweet wrinkly buggers into bread. In the years that have passed, the recipe has taken on a slew of variations, minor additives and special ingredients. Bells and whistles. But, for me, one recipe will always reign supreme…
Maria’s Banana Bread
⅔ Cups Buttermilk, ⅓ Cup Canola Oil, ¾ cup Brown sugar, ½ Cup Granulated Sugar, 2 cups Flour, 3 eggs, 1 ¼ tsp baking powder, ¾ tsp baking soda, 2 smashed bananas, ¾ cup chopped walnuts.
Combine all the ingredients and get to mixing. Seriously, mix them up. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease up those loaf pans like they’re going to wrestle each other and it’s supposed to last a while. Pour all the batter into the two pans equally and bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick goes in naked and comes out that way too. Let them cool and then slather them with butter or if you’re feeling healthy and you’d like to put a stop to that, cream cheese. Also, don’t forget to lock your front door, because it will probably draw some neighborhood kids to your house and the criminal justice system is very lenient on juveniles who perpetrate home invasion robberies for baked goods. Be warned.
Kellen Burden is a local novelist and lunch enthusiast. More of his work can be found at www.goatfederation.com.