On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Baking Memories

Often when I'm in the kitchen baking the very process stirs up particular memories. For example, kneading bread makes me think about my Grammy Lyon and watching her knead bread in her pantry. The very act of kneading bread brings back smells of aromas, the feel of her metal counter, the sight of her apron. Or when I'm making chocolate chip cookies I remember the very first time I helped make them, not at home, but at Susan Demasi's house which I think I only visited one or two times. Today I made my friend Martha's banana bread. Well actually, it's only a recipe that Martha gave me that she came across when we were in the process of doing a recipe swap. She hadn't even made it herself until then. Still I always think of it as "Martha's Banana Bread," even when, as today, I make it with variations (like adding chocolate chips and walnuts). Or there's the tea cookies that Aunt Drucilla always made at Christmas. I made them for Abby's shower a little over a week ago. Somehow I doubt there were nearly as special to the rest of the guests as they were to the few of us who counted on Auntie bringing them for Christmas every year. There are memories of making lemon meringue pie with my mother, and messing up a meringue the first time I tried to do it by myself.There are even things like Grammy Rowell's filled cookies that in fact are more someone else's memories.

I wonder whether my children have baking memories. We certainly did a lot of baking together when they were growing up. From the pies that my son made with graham cracker crusts and instant pudding when he was 4 to the apple pies that Abby learned to make with her dad to enter a pie in the fair, we were always a cooking together sort of family. I wanted us to make memories as well as food, but I don't think I knew how much some foods would end up reminding me of some people.

I never actually baked anything with Martha. I sometimes baked things for her, and she sometimes made things for me. She was my first contemporary friend in town, the first other young married person I knew here. She was younger than me, but more experienced in a lot of ways. That is to say she'd been a wife longer and was already a mother. She was suffering from secondary infertility when we met and we were both struggling to achieve a pregnancy while it seemed like around us pregnant women were blossoming like dandelions. Eventually we had both had babies. Our sons were born 13 months apart and then my daughter and her youngest son 7 months apart. That's the happy part of the story. From there things began to go horribly wrong. Ultimately she lost her husband at age 44 and then she died herself at 48. The years in between weren't friendly to her and our friendship also stagnated.

Still I remember her for her genuine thoughtfulness to others, her ability to keep a n immaculately clean house in the midst of incredible turmoil, her fierce love for her children even when they disappointed her. So when I bake banana bread I remember all the good things about her, and some of the not so good things sort of drop away. She's one of the people I try to remember to pray for when we're praying for the dead, and she's one of the people I put on my Mass intentions in November. As far as I know she died while still struggling with her relationship with God and the Church, although she did receive last rites while in a coma.

I'm going to share her recipe for banana bread with you. Even though you won't have any memories of her, she may be able to use your prayers anyway. So if you say prayers for the dead when you bake it say a prayer for Martha. If you don't say prayers for the dead you might at least remember that once upon a time I had a friend who baked, but whose life was far less happy than it might have been, but who is remembered with love.

Martha's Sour Cream Banana Bread
1/2 cup shortening (Martha used Crisco - I use butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs well beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup mashed bananas
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Cream the sugar and shortening together, then add the eggs and bananas. Mix the dry ingredients together then add to the creamed mixture. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees.

Now for my variations: I like to add about a half to three quarters of a cup of chocolate chips and a half a cup or so of walnuts (chop them if you like, I don't always bother).

The recipe says to bake 45 minutes to an hour, but the loaf I took out of the oven today took over and hour. That may be because I simply through in bananas without measuring to see exactly how much volume there was there, or it may simply be that my accubake oven isn't all that accurate. So bake it until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the center of the loaf.

This is a really moist banana bread and it remains so even if you use non-fat sour cream. Enjoy!

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