Celebrate banana bread any way you like it

February 19, 2024

Although today is national Banana Bread Day, it’s also National Tootsie Roll Day and International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day. There’s some confusion (caused by the change in the Russian calendar) about whether or not this may also be Red Army Day and International Women’s Day. The latter is now celebrated on March 8, and there’s not much enthusiasm in this country about the Russian Revolution, so we’re going to stick with food celebrations.

Early dog biscuits are reported to have been invented by James Spratt in the mid-1800s. He was inspired by observing dogs eagerly munching on the hardtack (biscuits) served on ships. He incorporated both meat and vegetables (most likely the scraps unfit for human consumption) into these first fido biscuits. By the early 1900s, the Milk-Bone company was selling the familiar bone-shaped treats we still find today.

But, we didn’t stop at treats that were mass-produced on an industrial scale for our sweet pups. These days, you can find homemade dog treats at local bakeries and pet shops. Advertised as organic and “human grade,” the ingredients are a far cry from moldy crackers. Featuring ingredients such as pumpkin, bananas and peanut butter, the treats are definitely human grade. I’ve included a simple recipe that calls for just three ingredients if you have an interest in baking for your four-legged friends.

As for the celebration of Tootsie Rolls, I am not a fan, but I do acknowledge there are people who love these chewy, taffy-like chocolate logs. If you’d like to cook with them, the most popular recipe is to use them is as the basis for a no-bake fudge. I’ve included one from Taste of Home. You’ll also find recipes for making your own similar candies, most of which were not very highly reviewed, so you may want to stick to the originals purchased from the candy store or supermarket.

Banana bread, on the other hand, is one of my favorite comfort foods. I love the way the kitchen smells when it’s baking, and I love melting a pat of butter on a warm slice. Of course, it’s not a bad choice for the basis of fruit shortcake or underneath a scoop of ice cream. Banana bread is a fairly modern food that can trace its roots back to the early 1900s. Before that, it was challenging to transport bananas before they became overripe. Two events coincided to change things.

With the availability of refrigeration, shipments of bananas became possible, and they became a familiar fruit at the breakfast table. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s made every scrap of food important to feeding the family, so even a rotten banana had its place on the menu. Combine this sensibility with the availability of chemical leavenings (baking powder and baking soda) to drive the emergence of  recipes for banana quick breads.

If you look at some of the earliest banana bread recipes, they’re quite basic. From the 1930s-era “My New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book,” the recipe calls for a cup of wheat bran, an inexpensive filler that creates a rather rough texture. “Joy of Cooking” in the following decade echos the rationing associated with World War II, with just a single egg and lower-cost buttermilk. “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book” of the 1950s does add nuts, but not much in flavoring.

Fast forward to the 20th century, and you find banana bread recipes with interesting spices (cardamom and allspice), moist texture and lovely crumb. I’ve included my recipe for a dependable banana bread, although a quick search of the internet will give you all sorts of additional options to consider. And, if you need ripe bananas in a hurry, Lloyd’s in Lewes usually has them in a bin near the cash registers, so you don’t have to wait to start baking.

Banana Bread

2/3 C sugar
1/3 C brown sugar
1/2 C butter
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 T lemon juice
2 C flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 C chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cream together sugar and butter in a mixing bowl. Beat in eggs and bananas until almost smooth. Stir in lemon juice. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Fold in nuts and pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until top is golden and cake tester comes out clean, about 55 minutes.

Dog Treats

2 C rolled oats
2 ripe bananas
1/2 C peanut butter

Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Place the oats in the bowl of a food processor and grind them into a fine powder that resembles flour. Combine oats, bananas and peanut butter in a mixing bowl and stir until combined. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until dark and slightly puffed, about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool and store in an air-tight container. Yield: about 3 dozen, depending on the cookie cutter.

Tootsie Roll Fudge*

2 C Tootsie Roll Midgees
2 T smooth peanut butter
2 T butter
3 C confectioners' sugar
2 T milk
1 t vanilla 
1 C chopped pecans
1/3 C M&Ms

Line a 9-inch-square pan with foil. Coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a heavy saucepan, melt Tootsie Rolls, peanut butter and butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar, milk and vanilla. Fold in pecans. Spread into prepared pan. Using a sharp knife, score the surface into 1-inch squares. Press an M&M's candy into the center of each square. Cool. Use the foil lining to remove fudge from pan; cut into squares. Store in an airtight container. *Adapted from Taste of Home.

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