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Baking 1930’s-style

Yellowed pages, hand-written scrawl, and a recipe that calls for "fat." How could this not be good?

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Usually my trips down south to see my grandparents go something like this: arrive, put bags down, go to kitchen, cue non-stop parade of slow-cooked ribs, fried chicken, grits, biscuits, coconut cake, and banana pudding. This time was different. With my grandmother ill, the cooking had pretty much come to a halt. And so had her constant, though well-intentioned, nagging.

Since there was no one to make my grandfather and me eat our daily “potassium,” as Granny calls bananas, the yellow fruit sat silently browning on the counter. Strangely enough, with everything she had going on, it was the expiring bananas that became a cause of great concern for her. For someone who lived through the Depression (and who rinses and reuses Ziploc baggies at least 100 times), the idea of good food going to waste was making her crazy.

The third time she asked me to “do something with them bananas,” I went digging through her drawers for her secret recipe. When I unearthed her favorite cookbook and located the banana bread recipes, a brittle sheet of white paper fell from the yellowing pages of the book. In her own slanting scrawl, she’d combined and tweaked the recipes from the book into her own version—typical.

As I followed her instructions, I was struck by the difference between the recipe I was following and the ones I see everyday. One of the recipes called for “fat,” not butter or oil or even shortening, but just plain and simple: fat. God, would anyone make a recipe with fat in it these days? And the directions were so simple: combine ingredients, divide into pans, bake for an hour. Can you imagine if we published something like that in Fine Cooking?

Of course, the banana bread was awesome (especially with my own little additions of chocolate chips and pecans), and we ate it warm and moist, right out of the oven. In fact, it was the first thing she’d had a taste for in days. She really did relax a little after that—maybe it was because the bananas were taken care of, or maybe it’s because she had been. After all, she’s always saying the secret ingredient to her cooking is “L-o-v-e.”

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