I became a vegetarian during college in the early 1970’s. When I moved to Tokyo six years later, I gave up this proclaimed role, because of my need to be open to all foods proffered by my Japanese hosts.
While abstaining from meat and fish, I searched for healthy alternatives in an array of natural food cook books. There I found treasured recipes which I still use today; one was this powerfully good, whole wheat banana bread.
Bananas have a long history. Alexander the Great discovered them growing in the Indus Valley in 327 B.C.; they had been cultivated, however, in India since 2000 B.C. 1
Documentation dated in the 7th century shows that China was using them in abundance also. Portuguese explorers reported this same fruit in western Africa in 1482, where it probably had been grown for a long time; these Europeans adopted its local name Musa sapientum, which was originally given this fruit by Alexander the Great. In 1496, Spanish conquerors found an intense cultivation of bananas in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 2
Nevertheless, the United States didn’t experience this tropical fruit until 1804, and then only in a limited way for the next 50 years; this delectable was imported infrequently, in such relatively small quantities as 300 stems, by sailing ships coming from the Caribbean or Central American ports. 3
In 1830, during this early inactive period, Capt. John Pearsall brought the first full cargo of bananas, 1500 stems, to New York. This man later became a N.Y. commission agent, specializing in the import of this prized fruit. In the mid-nineteenth century, he went bankrupt when his shipment of 3,000 stems arrived too ripe to sell; big money was tied up in each of these loads, for then a “finger” sold at the exorbitant price of 25 cents wholesale. 4 This was at a time when factory workers, consisting of women and children, were making between 25-50 cents per day. 5
More and more, cargoes from Honduras and Costa Rica were reaching New Orleans, New York, and Boston during the two decades before 1870, the year when large-scale banana traffic really began. As the 70’s opened, the now more abundant bananas were sold, foil-wrapped, at a fair in Philadelphia for 10 cents a stem; it was the first time many of these fair goers had ever indulged in this delight. 6
By 1885, 10,000 stem cargoes were being shipped from Jamaica in 10 to 12 days. Next, just prior to the turn of the century, this exotic fruit spread to inland America by rail express. 7
Now, however, bananas are common and cheap; every American has experienced them, along with this familiar sweetbread. This 45-year-old banana bread recipe is one of the best among thousands. Here I have included grams, as someone recently requested that most accurate of measurements for my baking receipts; measuring in grams insures foolproof baking. Nevertheless I can’t express how easy and certain this preparation is, even with cup measurements, for I could make it with my eyes closed. Receive!
- James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), pp. 18, 9.
- Ibid., pp. 41, 78, 18, 81.
- Ibid., p. 196.
- Ibid., pp. 217, 234.
- Stanley Lebergott, Chapter: Wage Trends, 1800-1900, The Conference on Research in Income and Wealth, The Trends in American Economy in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960), pp. 449-500.
- James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), pp. 283, 301.
- Ibid., pp. 320, 360.
Whole Wheat Banana Bread Yields: 1 loaf. Total prep time: 1 hr & 25 min/ active prep time: 25 min/ baking time: 1 hr. This is adapted from Jean Hewitt’s The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (New York: Avon Books, 1971), p. 235.
1 c (136 grams) whole wheat pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill is high quality.)
1/2 c (64 grams) unbleached white flour (May grind 1 c organic, hard red spring wheat berries to make total 1 1/2 c-204 grams-flour.)
1/4 c (60 grams) cream*, or milk, soured with juice from lemon ball
1/2 c (113 grams) butter, softened
3/4 c (165 grams) brown sugar, packed (Organic brown sugar is preferable, which is available at Trader Joe’s, or may substitute a healthier 3/4 c-95 grams-coconut sugar.)
1 lg egg (51 grams)
1 tsp (7 grams) baking soda
3/4 tsp (4.26 grams) salt (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section of local supermarket.)
2 lg or 3 small ripe bananas, (375 grams), 1 1/4 c (May ripen these overnight by gently, but firmly, squeezing the whole banana, until meat is mushy under the skin; let sit at least 8 hours.)
1 tsp (4.2 grams) vanilla
1/2 c (62 grams) nuts, optional
Spray oil (Pam coconut spray is best for taste and quality; our local Winco brand, however, makes this preferred spray for less than half the expense.)
Flour for dusting sprayed pan
- If using fresh ground flour, begin grinding 1 c hard red spring wheat berries now (this berry makes a dense, nutritious bread, which is extremely high in protein-one serving has the protein of an egg or 7 grams). See photo.
- Measure cream, which is preferable, or milk in a med/large bowl; squeeze several squirts of lemon juice from a ball over surface; let sit until soured, about 10 minutes.
- Beat butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy; mix in sugar thoroughly; add egg, beating well; set aside.
- In storage bag, with a seal, shake together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
- When cream/milk is soured (cream will appear curdled more than milk), add bananas, and mash well with a fork. Blend in vanilla, set aside.
- Alternately add flour and banana mixture to butter mixture. When all is incorporated, mix in optional nuts. Beat only until all is incorporated, as over beating toughens baked goods.
- Spray a 9 x 5, or 8 x 4, inch loaf pan, lightly dust with flour, pour batter in prepared pan. (This bread will be denser when made in the smaller pan.)
- Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until bread responds, bounces back, when pressed with finger. May also test with a toothpick; it is done when toothpick comes out clean, from the soft area in crust. Do not over bake.
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes; then, remove and finish cooling on rack; see top photo. Keeps well in refrigerator, wrapped in paper towel, and sealed in gallon-size storage bag.
- This is a staple in my home!