April 26, 2015 – For centuries there were three inspirations for the creation of the great dishes we love. Our comfort foods.
First, feed the family with whatever was available. Gumbo and jambalaya became famous dishes but they began with mom looking in the larder to see what was there. What was available to feed the family. And then making it taste good so the kids would eat it.
Second, stretch the life of food and sometimes mask the flavor of ingredients that were maybe a little past their prime. Why do you think those European nations fought so hard to claim new lands five hundred years ago? Oh sure, they wanted gold. Riches. But honestly there was very little of that. More importantly they wanted spices to mask the taste of rotting food. And perfume to…well, you know.
Third, some rich guy paid a chef to create something magnificent that nobody else had.
In the late 19th century along came a fellow named Auguste Escoffier who gave us a fourth inspiration for the creation of great dishes. He partnered with a fellow named Carlton. Carlton managed the Ritz Carlton hotels; Escoffier ran the kitchens. And just coincidentally he became the first celebrity chef. Celebrity chefs create great dishes to attract customers to their restaurants. Very sensible. Good business.
I’m concerned with inspiration number two here. Using foods that are just a shade past their prime to create dishes that are delicious. Dishes that linger in our taste memories as comfort foods. That remind us of home and family.
One of the most familiar is banana bread. The most perfect fit for this category. You can’t even make banana bread with fresh bananas. They have to be brown and soft. Won’t work otherwise.
And is it ever comfort food! Who could deny the tantalizing aroma of hot banana bread? Even as I write my taste memory is urging me to check the fruit basket for darkening bananas.
I was at my mother’s house in Texas. I had a taste for banana bread. Before I got there I asked her to save any bananas that were turning brown. When I got to her house she had three big, beautiful brown bananas.
On Sunday afternoon I got to work in the kitchen. It was fun. Even better, I had my mother as sous chef. How cool is that?
Most every family has its own version of banana bread. I’m not giving away any big secrets. Here’s the recipe we came up with. It was delicious. I can taste it still.
1 stick butter, at room temperature 1 cup sugar 2 eggs 2 cups all purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt three ripe bananas 1 tablespoon milk 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a loaf pan with butter. Loaf pans are usually 9x5x3. Perfect size for this recipe.
Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Beat well as you add each egg.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt all together. Add it to the creamed butter and sugar, mixing well.
Mash the bananas thoroughly. Add 1 tablespoon of milk and mix into the mashed bananas.
Fold the bananas and the vanilla extract into the flour mixture.
You can also add a handful of chopped walnuts if you wish.
Pour the mixture into the loaf pan. Bake for about an hour. Check it a few minutes before the hour is up with a cake tester. (Also known as a toothpick.) When it comes out clean the bread is done.
Let it cool for about 15 minutes.
It’s so good warm slathered with melting butter.