Yesterday, Phoebe came home from school with her aspiring-baker friend Abby (different Abby) and declared “We want to make bread.”
“How long is this playdate exactly?” I asked.
“Abby’s mom is picking her up at 5:30.”
“Hmmm.” I was a little concerned about their plan.
“Aw c’mon…We can make that easy bread you always make?” She was, of course, referring to Jim Lahey’s world-famous No-Knead bread, the only bread I’ve ever dared bake. (And to be honest, it works so well, I don’t really know why I’d try any other.)
“Well you’re right, that one is easy,” I said. “But it still takes time.” I thought for a second.
“How about banana bread? That’s quick and we have a bunch of bananas that are not looking so hot.” Of course, it’s a total farce that something made with that much sugar and butter is called “bread” and not “cake,” but it was Friday, and why shouldn’t there be a little banana cake lying around over the weekend? Plus, I had the world’s most surefire recipe, which I knew two 12-year-olds could handle without parental supervision.
It was decided. I opened my old recipe binder….an actual honest-to-god BINDER with tabs that look like this:
And recipes that look like this:
The whole binder system seems so quaint now, in spite of the fact that I only started it about a decade ago. But I still reach for it all the time — even though most of my tried-and-true recipes are digitized on this blog or immortalized in my cookbook. I think that’s because a lot of the recipes in the binder are handwritten…and we all remember the rule about handwritten recipes, right? How they’re the least likely of all recipes to let you down??
The other thing about handwritten recipes? They are way off the Google grid…and how often can you say that in this day and age?
I sifted through recipes from my mother’s mother who I never met, recipes from old co-workers, Aunt Patty-anotated New York Times recipes from 1982 until I found what I was looking for: Elizabeth Mayhew’s banana bread recipe you see above. About ten years ago Elizabeth, then an editor at Real Simple with me, now a Today Show and Washington Post contributor, came in to my office to talk about recipes for a story loosely called “One-Bowl Breads.” This was not an unusual scene — no matter what I was working on, food stories or otherwise, my first conversation was always Elizabeth, an idea-machine who came up with some of the more memorable tips the magazine is so famous for. Thanks to Elizabeth I never feel bad about serving dinner guests meatloaf on china platters which “elevate the everyday”; and I can always easily find my bed sheet sets (they are tucked into their matching pillow case like a little kit); and, as you have gathered by now, thanks to Elizabeth I have a killer one-bowl banana bread, the recipe for which she scrawled out in my office from memory. (“It’s my mother’s and I’ve made it too many times to count.”)
Elizabeth could be ruthless, too, which I loved. Once, in my office, she asked me why I had an ugly dried-out bouquet of flowers on my desk. I told her Andy bought them to congratulate me for an Times Op-Ed I had just written. “It reminds me of my potential,” I told her, somewhat pathetically. In one swift movement, she plucked out a tiny dried rose from the bouquet, placed it in a tiny box she found on my desk, shut the top, and handed the whole thing back to me. “Here’s your potential,” she said. “Now throw out those depressing flowers.” (Kids are not the only ones who appreciate a bit of authority.)
I still have that little box. And I still have her banana bread recipe, which is what I handed Phoebe and her friend for their baking date, and which the whole family moaned and groaned over all weekend. (Not surprisingly, they opted for the “optional” chocolate chips.)
I’m not going to rekey the recipe for you like I usually do. Instead, here is a link where you can download a PDF. (Or just drag the above photo to your desktop and print.) Baking time (in a loaf pan) is 50 minutes to an hour, or whenever a knife in the center comes out clean. Let’s see how long we can keep it from Mr. Google.