In my family, we have very few traditions. We never do things exactly the same. Thanksgiving and Christmas are a little different every year, and this may be because we are disorganized. The one thing that did remain the same is the warm aroma of my mom’s OJ banana bread muffins. We’ve had it ever since I was very young and anyone who tries it loves it.
Bananas have an interesting history. Originally from Southeast Asia, and studied as early as the fourth century B.C. by one of Aristotle’s students, they never were popular in a rice-based diet. Banana bread also wasn’t discovered until fairly late—not until the eighteenth century, when other “quick breads,” breads baked without baking powder, were developed.
Banana bread first became popular in the United States during the time of the Great Depression. It likely made it into cookbooks during this time because it involves over-ripe bananas, which would not have been thrown away very quickly or easily during this time of economic crisis.
My family’s history with banana bread started some time later, after they moved to the United States. During World War II my great-grandparents lived in the Netherlands. One afternoon they heard a knock at their door. Standing in their doorway were members of the Dutch Underground looking for a place to hide some Jewish refugees. My grandparents felt quite nervous about this because of the huge risk involved, but they felt it was their duty as Christians to offer them a place to hide. These Jews lived with them and stayed deep within the interior of their home until my great-grandpa was asked to take on a greater responsibility.
At this time, the leader of the Dutch Underground had been captured and was being led on
foot by Nazis down a country road. A man on a bicycle rode past them and the leader saw this as a great opportunity. When the bicyclist was next to them, the underground leader pushed the Nazis into the bike and was able to make his escape. But he of course had to go into hiding, which left a huge leadership role empty.
Shortly after this time, my great-grandpa was asked to take over the position of leader. He felt called to accept. This put him and his family at great risk, which resulted in my great-grandma taking my grandpa and his brother into the country to stay with relatives until the war was over. Unfortunately, Nazis found them out one night and knowing they were related to my great-grandpa emptied their entire house except for a plaque that was left standing on the wall. This plaque read, “Onze hulp staat en de naam van Heer die hemel en aarde gemaakt.” In English, this translates to Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”The Nazis found my grandpa hiding in the house and asked his cousins who he was. They said he was a neighbor. If they had told the truth that day, the soldiers would have taken my grandpa and I would not be writing this paper today, or even be here at all.
After World War II, my great-grandparents and their family immigrated to the U.S. to pursue better opportunities. During this period, they had very little money so they’d eat relatively cheap foods such as potatoes, corn, and bananas. Especially during the hot summer months in Michigan, their bananas and other produce would ripen very quickly. Because they didn’t have much money, they used their over-ripe bananas to make banana bread.
Even after my great-grandpa started a fabric store and the family started to have more money, they still made the banana bread because it tasted so good. They even experimented by adding orange juice for the taste and sprinkling brown sugar on top. My grandma learned to make it by the time she married into the family and later, when the time came, my mom learned to make it, too.
My first experience with banana bread was in 2000, when I was four years old. One warm summer morning the aroma of bananas sweetened by sugar drew me to the kitchen, where I repeatedly asked my mom what she was making until she had the chance to answer me. She finally told me the name and then opened up the oven door, releasing intense heat into the air while placing the pan on top of the stove to cool.
For the next few minutes I waited as patiently as a four-year-old is able to until the muffins were cool enough to eat. The warm banana bread’s smell filled my nose and increased my appetite by the minute. Finally, my mom scooped out a muffin and put it on a plate at the counter. I scrambled up the barstool and plopped myself down in front of the muffin. I hesitated for a moment, but as soon as the muffin’s sweet flavor hit my tongue I experienced this new sensation of flavors I wasn’t familiar with. I don’t recall if I immediately grabbed another muffin from the cooling tin, but I believe that there is a good chance that I did.
Most people know what banana bread is, so it really isn’t a very unique recipe, but the way my mom makes it is key to why it is so good. She makes the muffins perfectly moist so they aren’t too dry but they also don’t stick to your mouth when you eat them. The “secret” ingredient of orange juice really completes the taste of the muffins, too. I miss it when I eat a muffin made by someone other than my mom.
When I move into my own place someday and actually have to cook my own food, I will make sure to get the banana bread recipe from my mom. It is a family recipe that I will continue to share throughout the coming generations because these muffins are delicious, easy to make, and significant in my family’s heritage.
Recipe for OJ Banana Bread Muffins
1 cup sugar
2 TBSP shortening
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 large, ripe bananas
1/2 cup orange juice
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Mash bananas and shortening together with fork in large mixing bowl.
- Mix with the rest of the ingredients with electric mixer, adding flour slowly.
- Pour into greased mini muffin tins or reg. muffin tins.
- Top each muffin with a bit of brown sugar.
- Bake mini-sized muffins for 15-20 min, or regular muffins for 20-25 min. (or until golden brown and not mushy on top.)
“BANANA BREAD HISTORY.” Banana Bread. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015
“The Interesting Tale of Banana Bread History in America.” Botanical Journeys Plant Guides. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 2015.