An Ode to Banana Bread

If you didn't make banana bread in 2020, were you even there? 

But why banana bread? Of all the things that could have been a trend, why that? I think there are a few reasons. 

First, it saves food waste. Even those bananas that are so far gone they barely need to be mashed are good in banana bread. At a time when supermarket shelves were empty, saving food from the bin was at the front of everybody's minds. Banana bread is the poster child for using up food that would otherwise be inedible. 

It's a forgiving bake. Run out of butter? Use oil. The finished product will turn out fine. You can use milk, non-dairy milk, yoghurt, sour cream or sparkling water and you'll still end up with a delicious loaf. You don't even need a loaf tin; chuck the batter into a cake pan and adjust the cooking time. The Mary Berry recipe I use is infinitely adaptable. I don't think I've used the same set of ingredients more than once — I just kept the measures the same and substituted at will. When gluten free flour was scarce, I managed to get a bag of flax-heavy 'rustic' flour from Europe. I just upped the baking powder and carried on. The results were different from subsequent bakes with self-raising white blends, but both had their charms. I've used soft brown, caster, demerara and granulated sugar. Once, I used syrup. Sometimes, I throw in some cinnamon and nutmeg. It has yet to fail. Go nuts. Or sultanas or chocolate chips. Add crushed pretzels, you'll thank me.

Banana Bread Photo by Caleigh
It's low risk. You might never have baked before and you'll still manage to create a delicious loaf. Sourdough takes time and patience and skill, perfect for the experienced baker with nothing but time on their hands. Banana bread is entry-level baking; it requires none of the above. While we were furloughed on 80% of our usual income, freelance work was drying up and contracts were non-existent, we turned to a recipe we trusted to work: one that wouldn't waste our ingredients.

Lastly (and most importantly to me) it's comfort food. Whether you want to eat it by the handful or prefer it toasted and slathered with salted cinnamon butter or cream cheese, its sweet stodginess has all the same qualities as a now-prohibited hug from a friend. There's a reason why we seek solace in food. Sweet, rich and salty foods provide us with a temporary sense of happiness and wellbeing. In all of the fear and grief and loss of control of the past year, banana bread was there for us.

I wonder how popular banana bread will be in six months from now. Perhaps we'll have moved on to something else by then. Life post-vaccine in on the horizon and I don't know if we'll have space for banana bread in it. Whatever happens, I hope we remember what banana bread meant to us in unprecedented times.