Origins of Banana & Bread: Theophrastus (a Greek naturalist philosopher) around the 4th century B.C., in what is probably the first scientific book on botany, describes the banana plant. We know that the Greeks made bread with honey, spices and fruits around the time of Pliny (23-79 A.D.), and we also know that Pliny had knowledge of the banana (he also described them in 77 A.D.) far from its origins in Southeast Asia most likely Malaysia and subsequent spread to the Indian continent, New Guinea, Philippines and across the ocean to the Americas.
In the fertile Indus valley, Alexander the Great discovered all manner of bananas and plantains- which are technically the berry of an herb, and not the fruit of a tree- from the genus Musa. The two are not considered botanically distinct, and their spread has been intertwined. They are different cultivars of the same plant. One has more moisture and natural sugar, the other is waxy and has a higher starch content. The banana was cultivated by about 2,000 B.C. They arrived in southern China by 200 A.D. and Africa by the 6th century. Arab traders had already brought the fruit to the Middle East by the time Muhammad was preaching, and they spread through the growing Islamic empire that his religion inspired.
In the 15th century Portuguese explorers found bananas in western Africa and planted some back home. From there the fruit was taken to the Canary Islands by Spanish Missionary Friar Tomas de Berlanga, and they were soon growing in Haiti, Mexico, and the rest of South America. The rest is history as they say, for the banana was here to stay.
Quick breads (chemically leavened) which most banana bread recipes are, were not developed until the end of the 18th century. This took place in America, where pearlash was discovered. Pearlash is a refined form of potash, and it produces carbon dioxide gas in dough. In American Cookery (the first American cook book) Amelia Simmons published recipes using pearlash, and we exported some 8,000 tons to Europe in 1792. (But she has no specific recipe for banana bread) Baking powder was not developed commercially until 1857 (phosphate baking powder). So the banana bread as we know it (a quick bread) could have been first made in America in the 18th century when housewives discovered pearlash as a chemical leavening agent.
Bananas were first sold in the U.S. in 1870. By the turn of the century, they had become hugely popular. Instituting bad trade agreements and civil unrest in the South, they were here to stay. Because bananas are sold in bunches and ripen all at once, one can only wonder what Americans did with the fruit they failed to eat out-of-hand before it spoiled in those days. They couldn’t have frozen them. Modern production of the refrigerator did not begin until after World War II.
The U.S. began to import from England in 1846. The first American factory to produce bicarbonate of soda here was located in New York. The new company adopted the arm and hammer logo in honor of Vulcan, the Roman god of forge and fire. Baking powder, which contains baking soda, was also discovered in England. A British chemist, Alfred Bird, created it because he wanted to make a yeast-free bread for his wife who was allergic to eggs and wheat. Chemists around the world began to experiment with phosphoric acid and phosphates for use in food production. In 1855, Rumsford Baking Powder, the first calcium phosphate baking powder, was patented. Two years later, it was available for sale in U.S. markets. Today I prefer my Rumsford Baking Powder to be of the aluminum-free variety, definitely take a look for it in your natural foods section we’ve got more than enough aluminum bio-accumulating in our bodies.
The first recipe for banana bread was published by Pillsbury in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression in a cookbook called, “Balanced Recipes” was put together by Mary Ellis Ames, Director of the Pillsbury Cooking Service.
- 7 T organic butter (or Irish grass fed, Amish or Pulegra high fat European style)
- 2/3 c organic sugar
- 2T organic brown sugar
- 2 large organic eggs (room temp)
- 2-3 ea. organic bananas
- ¾ t sea salt
- ¼ t cinnamon
- 1/8 t nutmeg
- Dry Ingredients
- 1 1/3 c flour
- ½ t baking soda
- ¼ t baking powder (aluminum-free)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and have a greased prepped pan awaiting.
I’m sure your grandmother has a version that is near and dear to your hearts and there really is no wrong way to make it (unless it’s tasteless or dry) Adding enough fat and flavor are essential to avoiding this. Creaming a high fat content full bodied organic butter or quality oil (gone are the days of Crisco bread!!) along with your flavor additions is key, this is the perfect time for you add your salt, vanilla or a nice dash of barrel-aged rum (my personal favorite) then add in your eggs, mashed banana and slowly incorporate your dry ingredients until just mixed, but not lumpy (unless your bananas were not ripe enough and not mashed finely). Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, (19 minutes if you do cupcakes)
Don’t forget to dress her up occasionally, banana bread just like your mom or grandmother loves our accessories, whether it’s pearls or walnuts or any other kind of nut, a different mix of flour or my favorite coconut, flax, hemp meal almond flour addition, citrus zest, almond extract and dried fruits, a little frosting, or just a dab of butter, dress your banana bread up once in a while, and bake a loaf for your freezer and for your mom.
From my grandmother’s table to yours,
Happy Mother’s Day!