Some dark clouds have gathered Chez Bear-Garden, as my amazing 95-year-old grandmother is in the process of passing away from this world to whatever lies on the other side. There aren’t really any wise or clever words to dose out in this situation. All I can say is that she has lived a long and interesting life and raised a great family in the process, and I am still sorting how much emptier the world will be for my family without her in it.
Juanita is the most fiercely independent person I’ve ever known, and if I had to describe her in two words or less I would say “elegant mettle.” Originally raised in a Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico Hispanic farming community that can trace its roots there to the early 16th century, she married into a family of Sicilian immigrants who had settled into the San Francisco Bay area. The fusion of those two culinary traditions — roasted green chiles, queso blanco, and blue corn on the one hand, salted anchovies, Cioppino, and homemade raviolis on the other — is what my family considers comfort food of the first order. All of us cook the way we do because of the way my grandparents cooked, and one of the ways I will always remember Juanita is through the culinary traditions that she and my grandfather started and that I hope will be shared with the generations to come in our family.
As a small tribute to her, I wanted to share one of my favorite of her recipes. An inveterate sweet tooth, my grandmother would always have a cake, a pie, or a loaf of famous banana bread for her visitors. Her banana bread is perfect, simple solution to that bunch of rotten bananas that you might have hanging out in your kitchen right now. My mother would always bake some for parties or for a sick neighbor, and today I often make a loaf at the beginning of the week for easy, yummy breakfasts on the go.
Juanita’s Banana Bread
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of butter or vegetable shortening
3-4 very ripe bananas (we’re talking brown, shriveled, and fruit-fly ready)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan well with butter and sprinkle with flour. Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and bananas to butter and sugar mixture and mix well. I find that a potato masher works excellently for smushing up the bananas. Add flour, baking soda, and walnuts or pecans. Mixture will be stiff. Pour into pan and bake for one hour or more until toothpick comes out clean from the center of loaf when inserted.
Second generation modification: My mother used to serve slices of banana bread topped with cream cheese and black olives at her wild parties of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s not my cup of tea, but a lot of people reading this blog might have fond memories of those days.
Third generation modification: To make this a bit healthier for weekday breakfasts, I like to substitute 1/4 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed. I also omit one banana and add instead a cup of frozen blueberries when I add the nuts.