I made banana bread and banana muffins this week, using up some of the overripe bananas I brought home a couple of weeks ago from the soup kitchen where I volunteer. These bananas had some ‘image problems’, since they were turning various dark shades of brown and black, and many people like their bananas while they are still quite yellow. We couldn’t even give them away!
But many cooks know that the best bananas for baking bread are those really soft, dark, overripe ones. They are the ones with the most flavor. So I brought some home with me, quite a few actually. And I left them out on the counter for a few days to let them get even darker and riper. Then I froze them for use later.
I took the bread and muffins into the soup kitchen yesterday to share. I made one loaf of bread with walnuts added, and one loaf with chocolate chips and no nuts. For the muffins I went all out and put both walnuts and chocolate pieces in them!
Folks seemed to enjoy eating them, and all day there was a parade of people visiting the kitchen counter where we usually keep goodies available. Their satisfied reactions reminded me that sometimes it is the simple things that make people smile.
Millie was a wonderful lady at my parent’s church that had a real knack for making people smile. When her beloved Morris died, instead of staying at home and letting her sorrow consume her, she decided she would get out and stay active. One way she did that was by visiting the elderly members of the church, and those that were sick or lonely. Millie was no spring chicken herself, for that matter, but I never heard her complain. She seemed to thrive on the activity, and the positive effect it had on others.
Millie was a good cook, and she decided it would be nice to bring something homemade with her when she went to visit. That’s when she hit on the idea of baking banana bread. She would buy the 99 cent bags of bananas whenever they were on sale at the grocery and freeze them for use later. When she had enough accumulated, she would bake a bunch of banana bread in assembly line fashion and then stick the loaves in the freezer. That way she always had bread available when she went visiting.
Millie had made banana bread part of her personal ministry, though she was too humble a person to really think of what she did as being special. In the years after my father died she visited my mother on countless occasions, almost always bringing a small loaf of banana bread with her. Some people send cards, others call or write, but Millie showed up with a loaf of banana bread in hand. That’s how she rolled.
And how do I know all that? Well, for one thing, my mom loved Millie dearly but wasn’t all that fond of banana bread. So who do you think wound up eating a lot of Millie’s wonderful bread? Yep, you guessed it, that would be me! And Morris was one of my favorite Sunday School teachers when I was little, so I had known them both pretty much my whole life. When Mom died, Millie was one of many from the church who came to pay respects and offer kind words and hugs to me.
I didn’t use Millie’s recipe for the breads I baked. Her recipe is a little too sweet for my tastes these days, so I used my own recipe for the muffins and a King Arthur recipe for the breads. Still, I have to confess I’d love to have one more taste of Millie’s famous banana bread, secondhand as it were. And though they’ve both moved on to a bigger and better place, perhaps Mom and Millie have had a good laugh about it all by now. Who knows, they might even be getting a kick out of me and my own banana bread adventures. I like to think so.