A short history of banana bread: the surprise ingredient (not bananas) that started it all

The most searched-for bread recipe online isn’t white sandwich bread. It’s not whole wheat bread, or baguettes or no-knead bread or even anything with yeast in it. No, the most sought-after bread recipe across America is (drum roll, please): banana bread.

The history of banana bread reveals a startling fact: its birth wasn't all about bananas. Click To Tweet

Bananas aren’t native to most of North America, and were only sparingly available in the U.S. throughout the 1800s. Ship captains had difficulty solving the puzzle of how to successfully transport a fruit that ripened (and rotted) so quickly.

But the advent of refrigeration at the turn of the 20th century soon made bananas accessible to American households nationwide, where they quickly became a breakfast staple. Bananas were also used in desserts, though more often as a garnish atop cake or pudding than a main ingredient.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflourThen, in the 1930s, two events converged that elevated the banana from bit player to star.

First, the Great Depression, which began with the 1929 stock market crash and lasted throughout much of the 1930s, made every scrap of food precious. Households were unwilling to throw away anything — even a “rotten” banana.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

And second, Royal and other baking powder/baking soda manufacturers began mass producing their products, making these chemical leaveners widely available nationwide for the first time.

Thus the desire to use overripe bananas, paired with the ready availability of baking powder, inspired a horde of enterprising cookbook writers to come up with recipes for banana “quick bread” (as opposed to yeast bread).

By the early 1930s, banana bread recipes — using mashed bananas as the main ingredient, rather than banana slices as a garnish — had become ubiquitous, appearing in cookbooks from Better Homes and Gardens, Pillsbury Flour, the United Fruit Company (a chief banana importer), and more.

In honor of National Banana Bread Day (February 23), I recently decided to examine the history of banana bread. In doing so, I baked nine decades of American banana bread recipes, starting with a 1930s cookbook recipe and ending with our current King Arthur Flour Banana Bread online.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

And what did I discover on this sweet journey? Banana bread recipes down the decades have in common bananas, sweetener, a chemical leavener, some fat, and flour. But beyond that they can differ wildly — offering everything from a sprinkle of sesame seeds or dollop of apricot jam to a big hit of wheat bran or a grating of orange peel.

Additionally, each recipe reflects its era in some way, from Depression-era ’30s thrift to back-to-the-land ’60s.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

1930s: The Depression

Banana-Nut Bread from 1930’s “My New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book” yields a somewhat rough-textured loaf — due mainly to the full cup of wheat bran, an inexpensive bulk filler, added to the batter.

Reflecting the financial hardships encountered by many families, the loaf is lower in fat and sugar than most current recipes, as well as smaller — but its banana flavor is quite pronounced, unlike that of some of its successors.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

1940s: World War II

Banana Bread from the 1946 edition of “The Joy of Cooking” is a salute to wartime rationing: using a single egg, no spices, and sour milk or buttermilk (both less expensive and easier to come by than fresh whole milk), the loaf is fine-textured and tasty — but plain. Like most dishes during the era, it was meant to fill stomachs, not engage the imagination.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

1950s: Birth of the boomers

The 1950s was an era of growth in America. Soldiers, many having gone to college on the G.I. Bill, married, got good jobs, and started families — often large families.

Stay-at-home moms were the norm, and they flocked to “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book,” a 1956 salute to convenience cooking and baking. Banana-Nut Loaf, a large and lofty bread, definitely feeds a crowd. It’s low-fat, low-sugar, low-banana, and completely un-spiced. Easy, yes. But tasty? Not really.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

1960s-1970s: Back to the land

By the mid-’60s, America was transitioning from Pat Boone to the Beatles. Boomers joined communes, protested the Vietnam War, and went “back to the land.” Banana Bread from the Moosewood Restaurant, a “collectively owned and worker-managed business” founded in 1972 in Ithaca, NY, is an extreme departure from earlier versions — just like the young generation coming into its own.

Scented with vanilla, almond, orange, nutmeg, and coffee, this recipe from “The Moosewood Cookbook” even calls for sprinkling sesame seeds into the loaf pan before adding the batter. The resulting flat-topped loaf is dark (from brown sugar), dense, moist — and very tasty. While it won’t win any beauty contests, this banana bread is one of my favorites.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

1980s: Bold new flavors

The ’80s will be remembered for the mainstream embrace of “upscale ethnic” and bold flavors: pesto, quiche, sushi, and tiramisu all became household favorites during this decade. Boomers entered their 30s ready to entertain — and 1982’s “The Silver Palate Cookbook” (“Delicious recipes, menu, tips, lore from Manhattan’s celebrated gourmet food shop”) was on everyone’s shelf.

Surprisingly, Silver Palate’s Banana Bread doesn’t reflect the dash and excitement of most of its other recipes. Made with 50% whole wheat flour, it’s an unremarkable version (albeit rich; it uses an entire stick of butter) of what by then had become an American baking standby.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

1990s: Budding gourmets

Remember sun-dried tomatoes? How about truffles? Many Americans gravitated to the kitchen as the 20th century drew to a close, embracing food as creative expression. And our King Arthur Flour “Baking Sheet” print newsletter — precursor of our current online recipe site — was there throughout the decade, showcasing recipes both classic and innovative.

This cinnamon- and nutmeg-scented Banana Bread from the September-October, 1997 “Baking Sheet,” is an enormous loaf with well-balanced flavors and good, moist texture. It’s so rich that one reader reported using it as her wedding cake!

Want to check out the recipe? It’s in our King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion cookbook.

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

2000s-2010s: A healthy awareness

Let’s call the past 17 years or so the Decade of the Diet. Atkins and South Beach kicked things off in 2003, and since then our regimes of choice have ranged from Paleo to raw to gluten-free. We’re determined to eat better — but for the most part aren’t willing to give up food as pleasure.

Our current Banana Bread recipe online tones down our ’90s version (smaller size, fewer nuts); but also ramps it up by using a higher percentage of banana, and brown sugar, honey, and jam for enhanced moistness and flavor. In addition, a tip at the end tells you how much you can reduce the recipe’s sugar and still enjoy the result. Yes, you can have your lower-sugar banana bread — and enjoy it, too!

History of Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

Three decades of banana bread: That’s the 1930 recipe (Better Homes and Gardens) at the top; 1946 recipe (Joy of Cooking) in the center, and 1956 (Betty Crocker) at the bottom.

Of all of these recipes, two in particular catch my fancy. One is Moosewood’s loaf, with its overtones of coffee, brown sugar, and vanilla. As noted earlier, it won’t win any beauty contests; but it’s dense, moist, and flavorful, perfect for slicing thin and perhaps spreading with a smear of cream cheese.

My other top choice is the Banana Bread recipe currently on our site (and pictured at the top of this post). Made with butter and brown sugar, honey, vanilla, a hint of spice, and lots of banana, it’s wonderful with a cup of coffee, or toasted with butter. Or made into French toast. I reduce the amount of sugar (as suggested in “tips,” at the bottom of the recipe), so the banana flavor really shines through. Less sugar also means fewer calories — an added benefit!

What’s your own favorite banana bread recipe? Share what you love about it, as well as the book (and decade) or site it’s from below, in comments.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Lorraine Fina Stevenski

    PJ, what a great banana bread history. Thank you! I have baked and experimented with so many banana bread, muffin and cake recipes I love Moosewood’s recipe for Banana bread too! But that’s the hippie in me. Finally I found Lucinda Scala Quinn’s recipe for Banana Cake and baked it a few times and then made a few tweaks and made it my own. It is my go- to banana bread recipe. The topping is a brown sugar crumb and it is made with buttermilk and no spices. It is a perfect banana bread. Although it is shown as a cake, it is really a quickbread in the way it is made. I bake it into jumbo muffins and sometimes a 9X5 loaf. Look for this recipe here:
    http://www.marthastewart.com/348806/banana-cake

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Lorraine, thanks for sharing that recipe; I think all of us are on the hunt for the next best thing in banana breads! I look forward to trying this. And thanks for your guidance about making it into muffins or a loaf, too. Bake on! 🙂 PJH

  2. Denise Hammond

    I am allergic to fresh bananas, but cooking them kills the enzyme that is the problem, so I love banana bread. I especially like it with chocolate chips.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Denise, banana and chocolate are a marvelous combination — I love frozen bananas dipped in chocolate in the summertime… Glad we could add some interesting fodder to your banana bread experience. PJH

  3. Marci

    What a great fun!

    My daughter went to Hawaii for her honeymoon ten years ago, and the hotel she stayed at served banana bread frequently. They added crushed pineapple to it, and that has become a favorite addition of mine.

    Thank you for this great post. I loved it.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Marci, that’s a great idea — the pineapple will add both flavor and moistness. I’m definitely trying that next time… PJH

  4. Elaine

    It was interesting to read how banana bread changed with the times. I’d never thought of using banana bread to make French toast – I must try this. Thank you for the idea!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Elaine, you can also sauté slices of banana bread in a bit of butter, top with ice cream and caramel sauce, and have a bang-up dessert! Or cube leftover banana bread for bread pudding. Oh the places you’ll go… 🙂 PJH

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s true, Beverley. If we ever want to make something fun like banana bread French toast, we always make a double batch so an extra loaf can be set aside. It’s worth doing if you haven’t tried it; French toast with a banana-kick is the best way to start the day! Kye@KAF

  5. Carolyn

    I really enjoyed reading this post. My favourite banana bread recipe is from the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. It uses a lot of bananas (2.5 lbs for 2 loaves), and it bakes low and slow. Not only does that lead to a wonderful aroma coming from the oven, it also imparts a very deep rich, almost caramelized, banana flavour.

    Reply
  6. Viv

    My favorite banana bread recipe is the Heavenly Healthy Banana Bread (KAF recipe) made into muffins with chocolate chips, and I like to substitute part of the flour with Hi-Maize. Lots of fiber, unbelievably delicious, and very healthy. 🙂 I enjoyed your history very much! Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Lisa Tomsha

    I loved this story about banana bread! Thank you so much for posting. I searched for years looking for my favorite banana bread recipe too. My favorite is The Best Banana Bread from Americas Test kitchen. Unfortunately my family doesn’t like nuts, so I have to leave them out. Looking forward to try the King Arthur recipe.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Lisa, now I have to check out ATK’s recipe. They’re a good resource, aren’t they? Thanks for alerting me — PJH

    2. Diana

      If your family doesn’t like nuts, try substituting raisins (or dates). I do that myself sometimes just for variety, even though I love walnuts.

  8. Janene

    I enjoyed the history of banana bread! It’s something I enjoy but never considered how the recipe came to be. I found this recipe at a blog called The Silver Spool. It’s for Banana Oatmeal Bread. I like the texture the oatmeal adds to the bread. I tweaked the recipe by replacing the cinnamon with nutmeg and we drink 1% milk so I used that instead of the skim milk.

    http://thesilverspool.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/banana-oatmeal-recipe-card.pdf

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Janene, thanks so much for sharing this recipe; it’s always fun to try new versions of this old favorite. PJH

  9. Riss

    What a fun and interesting story and experiment, thank you for sharing it! I live in the Caribbean and use fresh bananas from our yard. They are sweeter and smaller (about half the size) and I use 6-8 of them (I use up to 4 or 5 regular ones sometimes too. Haven’t had an issue with too much banana yet!). I have your flour shipped down and when we get a huge batch of bananas, I make 3-5 loaves or up to 60 muffins at a time. My friends and family stand by their doors waiting for delivery!! (It freezes well too!) My recipe is very similar to your current one but I use a half cup of apple sauce instead of the marmalade. Anyway, as always you guys brighten my day one way or another, thank you so much!!!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Oh, my, how I envy you fresh bananas right outside the door! What a nice way to share your bounty, too, by delivering bread to family and friends (made with King Arthur Flour, of course…) 🙂 PJH

  10. T

    I have an old Bon Appetit recipe for banana bread which is good. It is good without the glaze.

    I would love for you to develop a pineapple banana bread.

    I think it might be test kitchen or cooks country that has a shingled banana bread with slices of bananas. It’s marked somewhere to try.

    I want to try using cake flour.

    Reply
  11. Sandra Murphy

    I loved reading the history of my favorite quick bread! My grandmother made Banana Bread every week or so and I thought it was a slice of heaven. Now when I make it I am transported back to her tiny kitchen with the wonderful smells and memories. Thank you for this special treat today!

    Reply
  12. Kay Landreth

    Your story hits home with me for it is also my story, also beginning in the early 30’s.
    I can relate to each “season” for this wonderful bread.
    thank you.
    Can’t wait to try YOUR favorite receipt, too.

    Reply
  13. Katherine

    Seven years ago I adapted a banana bread recipe from “Simply Simpatico” (Junior League of Albuquerque) cookbook to serve to my daughter’s Rowing team. I had to make the recipe more healthy than the typical banana bread/quick bread, as the kids needed fuel and would often eat many more than one slice. I reduced sugar and fat; I also increased the bananas and added whole wheat flour (KAF White Wheat) and Oat Bran to to the KAF All purpose white flour. The resulting loaf is quite dense, but super flavorful. Plus, the recipe makes 3 loaves at a time, and since I routinely served 10-12 loaves per weekend, volume matters. My key is freezing the ripe bananas, then pureeing them. I also freeze the puree as well and have it on hand for when I want to bake. I may dig out the old Moosewood recipe to compare or see what is on the menu the next time I’m visiting my now-college-senior rower, in Ithaca.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s some beautiful commitment, Katherine. Thanks for sharing your adventures in banana breading with us. Mollie@KAF

  14. Judith P. Oppenheim

    Dear PJ,
    Please tell us what is the status of “Tropical Race 4”, a banana plant disease that was supposed to spread quickly to destroy the banana world crop as we know it.

    Thanks,
    Judith P. Oppenheim

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Judith, here’s the latest news I can find on Panama TR4, which has affected banana crops in certain parts of the world, particularly Australia: Panama TR4. PJH

  15. Sharon

    My favorite is the one from Beard on Bread with the lemon juice mixed in to the milk. My paperback copy of that book opens flat to that page and is just about to split in half. jamesbeard.org/recipes/banana-bread I usually make it without nuts.

    Reply
    1. Gloria Hartley

      Sharon, it is also my favorite although I have the hard back version and it is almost split! I use buttermilk instead of the lemon juice and find it works well and twice the walnuts chopped fine. It is a hit on Sundays at church and I make it in the KAF 10″ loaf pan well greased.

      Gloria

  16. Margie

    Love this history of banana bread!
    For years, I’ve been using a recipe I found online where much of the bread is mixed in a blender. Instead of baking the bread into a loaf, I make muffins. Perfect for breakfast or a quick snack.
    Very easy recipe, too. I taught my little great niece how to make them.
    I’m going to be using your recipe the next time I bake banana bread.
    Thanks so much.

    Reply
  17. Lee

    What fun to read this history, thanks PJ! Your post made me curious about baking powder so I looked it up – never realized it was just baking soda mixed with an acid salt, to get a similar reaction to that of mixing baking soda with yogurt or buttermilk. Fascinating!

    I just bought bananas, so now hoping they will be just right to try this recipe next weekend. I mostly make banana snack cake or muffins with chocolate chips, so looking forward to trying this, sliced with butter or cream cheese. I recently expanded my pan collection with this size loaf pan, so am really happy with this timely recipe to try it out. Thank you, it is always a joy to read your blogs!

    Reply
  18. Bertie sprague

    My toddler granddaughter loved poppa’s banana bread, but she developed an egg allergy. After sone research I substituted 1/2 cup of applesauce for the eggs. She is now 16 and still loves my banana bread. I have shared it with thousands of school children and they love it too.

    Reply
  19. Nicki

    My favorite banana bread recipe is one that my Mom always used. It’s in a Watkins cookbook from the 40s. One of the great things about it is that it calls for sour milk, which adds a great tang to the sweetness of the bananas. I usually don’t have sour milk handy, so I add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the milk to curdle it. It’s just good. I still have the cookbook and I won’t use any other recipe even if I tweak it sometimes with mini chocolate chips instead of nuts.

    Reply
  20. Halyna

    My favorite is from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. It makes a dark, moist banana bread. I also frost it with chocolate frosting but it really can stand alone. I try to use as many very ripe bananas I as have( more than the recipe says) but it gives it even more flavor! This is a recipe from 1990’s.

    Kona Inn Banana Bread
    Source: The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham

    This makes a dark, dense, sweet banana bread. This is just the best. My family eats this plain but I have added walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips to it. It can stand alone. It is fabulous with chocolate frosting (my niece’s favorite way of eating it.) I make it in a bundt pan for a nice presentation. I’ve tried other recipes but this is the one they always talk about… and ask for.

    2 1/2 cups flour
    1 tsp salt
    2 tsp baking soda
    1 cup shortening
    2 cups sugar
    2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 6 medium-size bananas)
    4 eggs, slightly beaten
    1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

    Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour loaf pan (or I use a bundt pan). Use Pam spray to ensure non-sticking (even in the non-stick bundt pans I’ve found.)

    Stir and toss together the flour, salt, and baking soda.

    In a large bowl, mix the shortening, sugar, mashed bananas, eggs, and walnuts. Add the combined dry ingredients and stir just until the batter in throughly blended. (I use a mixer to blend the ingredients because I find the ingredients don’t blend well by hand. About 1-2 minutes medium by electric mixer)

    Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 65-70 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out in a rack to cool completely.

    Enjoy!
    Halyna

    Reply
    1. Helena

      This is almost identical to a recipe I received from a friends Grandma. I use a vegetable oil. It always comes out moist and delicious. Your recipe makes two loaves. I also sub. mini chocolate chips instead of nuts. Sometimes I will make a mixture of sugar flower and butter and sprinkle on top before baking.

    2. PJ Hamel, post author

      Halyna, thanks so much for sharing. The Kona Inn was highly regarded for their banana bread, but I’ve never seen a recipe — Until now. I’m going to print this immediately. I’m psyched! PJH

    3. Carol

      Wow! I make banana bread on a weekly basis. I hadn’t ever thought about using bundt pan for presentation. What a neat idea. Now to calculate how my favorite recipe would fit into a bundt pan. Thanks for the great suggestion.

  21. Peri Kujawa

    The Moosewood recipe is also my favorite. In most other recipes, I add more banana and use less sugar. If there is a lot of fat, I sometimes substitute applesauce for half the fat. Still great results.

    Reply
  22. Karen B

    I really enjoyed that about Banana Bread. Being the ripe age of 60 I grew up on Banana Bread and one of the first breads I learned to cook.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Karen, I think a lot of us were taught this recipe in home ec. (which, since you’re a boomer, I’m sure you took in junior high, right?). I hope you’re still baking banana bread today… PJH

  23. Virginia

    My banana bread recipe is a copy of the hand written one in my grandmother’s recipe box. My mother made it as loaves and muffins. I bake it for hostess and Christmas gifts. It is my go to comfort food. It uses sour milk, shortening and is made by creaming the fat & sugar, moist with fine textured.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Virginia, I’ve noticed most older recipes use shortening — though back then, “shortening” covered any kind of fat, from Crisco to butter to lard, so bakers could make their own choice. I’m glad you have an heirloom family recipe to turn to — and to make into gifts as well. PJH

  24. batya

    Here’s my helpful tip for banana bread & fruit smoothies requiring overripe bananas.

    Whenever you have an overripe banana, peel it, place it in a zip-top sandwich baggie. Squeeze out the air. Zip closed. Squish the banana into a thin flat sheet. FREEZE. Store in the freezer, adding ripe bananas as they come along, till you have enough for your recipe. Defrosting is quick & easy. Don’t worry if the juice separates, just dump all that squishy banana-y yumminess into the bowl & proceed with your recipe.
    Enjoy!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Batya, I’ve frozen bananas, but in the skin and in their original shape. Thanks for this tip about peeling/flattening; that way they take up less room and, as you say, they defrost more quickly. I’ll have to try this — PJH

  25. Jane Mirko

    This was a most interesting article because, like the other commenters, I have been trying several different versions of banana bread to get exactly what I want in flavor and texture. I have ended up modifying the Betty Crocker version by adding toasted coconut, chopped, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, lemon peel, and 1 TBSP lemon juice for yummy flavor. Now I am looking to trying the KAF version. Happy Baking and THANKS for all the great info.
    JM

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      And happy baking to you, Jane — I hope you enjoy the recipe. It sounds like it’ll be hard to beat your Betty Crocker version, though, with all those yummy tweaks! PJH

  26. SB

    Our favorite banana bread is the banana nut muffin recipe in “The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook”. Also, have you ever tried the banana-cashew pancake recipe from Jane and Michael Stern’s “Real American Food”? Fantastic.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I actually have “Real American Food,” but I haven’t made much from it; just enjoy browsing through the stories. But thanks for the tip — I’ll check out that recipe for sure. PJH

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Janet, Smitten Kitchen’s recipes are always delicious, aren’t they? Thanks for the heads up — PJH

  27. Regina McClune

    Like many, Banana Bread was a favorite growing up, and now, my husband. We topped it with cream cheese for breakfast, a snack or dessert. Our current recipe of choice is an old one using Grape Nuts cereal. It is denser, more flavorful and even the recipe noted that it would toast well. Thank you for a very interesting article.

    Reply
  28. Al

    Nice history lesson. I liked the banana bread with sour cream, but saw from America’s Test Kitchen that yogurt brings out the flavour better. I’m not fond of plain yogurt (yes, even with all you can do with it), and it’s difficult to find small containers of it. I do like blackberry yogurt best (I use chobani), so I started dumping it in the batter instead of the sour cream – YUM! the blackberry is very subtle, but adds to the flavour. And, of course, a couple of (small) handfuls of mini chocolate chips 🙂

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Al, good idea, using a flavored yogurt. I wonder why ATK says yogurt enhances flavor more that sour cream? Perhaps yogurt, being generally tangier, just contrasts more with the sweet bananas. Anyway — thanks for sharing. PJH

  29. EL

    I enjoyed this article greatly. I understand why banana bread is made from old bananas, but I don’t like to eat older bananas which seem too sweet to me. I didn’t realize how much this affected my liking/dislike for banana bread until the day that I made banana bread from bananas at the stage that I like to eat them (soft, but with a bit of the “green” taste still in them as they have just ripened). I make a banana/blueberry bread using bananas at the stage of ripeness that I enjoy and have found that now I can eat banana bread made with old bananas anymore (or at least, I can, but I won’t make it).

    It really tastes very different. So if you like less ripe bananas and you like banana bread, you might want to try making it with bananas at the stage of ripeness that you like the best.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      EL, I’m like you – I don’t like to eat overripe bananas, as they taste so strong. So that’s an interesting idea, going against the grain of the typicla banana bread recipe and using the slightly underripe bananas I like. I’m definitely going to try that ± thanks! PJH

  30. Sheila

    Very interesting history – I’m going to have to try some of these recipes, though we’re not really into banana bread in this house (but zucchini bread is another thing altogether!). I’m wondering though if you have any idea on the origins or age of a banana oatmeal (with or without chocolate chips) cookie recipe? My grandmother always made those, and I’ve tweaked it to be a bit healthier, but she always said it was a very old (possibly 19th century, if you leave out the chocolate chips) recipe. Now I’m wondering if it was just something that started in the 1930’s like the banana bread recipe? I didn’t think bananas were too common in the mid- or even late 19th century, and I know chocolate chips weren’t on the market until after Tool House cookies became very popular – probably around the time my grandparents were married!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sheila, that’s an interesting question: oatmeal cookies first made it into the mainstream in the late 1800s; the first “modern” oatmeal cookie recipe can be found in the 1896 Fannie Farmer (Boston Cooking School) cookbook. Bananas, as mentioned, became available sporadically around the country in the 1870s. So I’d suspect banana oatmeal cookies probably were born in the early 1900s — which means they would have been around for your grandma, given she was married in the 1930s. How’s that for some off-the-cuff sleuthing? 🙂 PJH

  31. Kathy K.

    Dear P.J.

    You will not believe this, but my go-to recipe for banana bread, and my late mothers’ as well, was from the cookbook volume of the 1949 World Scope Encyclopedia. It’s a very plain recipe with just butter, sugar, well-beaten eggs, 2 ripe bananas-well-beaten, a whole 2 tsps of sour milk, flour, soda, salt and vanilla, all added in that order and then you bake it for about an hour in a 300º oven.

    No nuts, no spices, no wheat germ, no cooking down the bananas to get “banana juice” and then sliced bananas baked on the top; no this, no that. Just simple, good banana bread with excellent taste and texture that gets more moist the second day if you wrap it in tinfoil after it completely cool.

    It was excellent with butter and raspberry jam-my favorite, but raspberries are now a migraine trigger so that’s out. Bummer! I have been thinking that I need to make some recently, thanks for reminding me.

    I can also highly recommend using frozen bananas. They make excellent banana bread and are ready any time that you want them. They turn liquidy and are very easy to mash. And, btw, bananas make very good jam as well. Google “Banana Jam,” “Monkey Butter,” or “Monkey Banana Jam” and pick one to your liking. You won’t be disappointed. Hmmmm-that’s an idea, too.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Kathy, I find it interesting that, like many older and post-war recipes, this one doesn’t include butter — which probably wasn’t always readily available at a decent price then. The bananas must give the bread good moistness, nonetheless. I love the idea of a simple banana bread, where the flavor of the bananas themselves shine through. And thanks for validating the frozen bananas technique – as you say, it’s easy to be ready to make banana bread at a moment’s notice if you’ve got frozen (and hopefully overripe) bananas on hand. Finally, I’ve ever heard of banana jam – but why not? I’ll have to give it a try. Cheers! PJH

  32. Joyce

    I had one over-ripe banana, a favorite banana bread recipes which called for 2 bananas, and some frozen cranberries. I added the cranberries in place of the second banana. Now, banana cranberry bread is one of my family’s favorites.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Joyce, sweet bananas and tart cranberries sound like a dynamite combo — thanks for sharing. PJH

  33. JANET MARTINEAU

    My favorite is so simple. I don’t know where I got the recipe but it is super moist.

    In a bowl whisk:
    2 c King Arthur’s all purpose flour
    1 c sugar (white)
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp baking powder
    Make a well in the center and add:
    1 cup mayonnaise
    3 mashed bananas

    1 cup chopped nuts optional.

    Mix just until everything is incorporated.
    I make jumbo muffins with it. 350* about 20 min.

    Reply
  34. Diana

    By sheer coincidence I was eating a banana muffin just before reading this article. It was made from a KAF recipe for gluten-free whole-grain banana muffins (on this site), which is now a heritage recipe for me.

    Thanks so much for sharing the history of banana bread and thanks to all who posted about their recipes. Banana bread is such a nostalgic comfort food.

    Before I went GF, I used to make vegan banana cake (which used whole wheat flour, honey, bananas, vegetable oil and spices–no eggs or dairy). It always got raves from people who had no idea it was a healthier version. Of course, I never told them because I didn’t want to shatter the illusion of decadence. I’m sure KAF 1 for 1 GF flour would work well in that recipe. One day, I’ll have to make try that. This article has inspired me. Thanks.

    Reply
  35. PJ Hamel, post author

    Kathy, banana bread is such a universal favorite, I’m not surprised it sells well at your bazaar — especially with the dried fruit, a genius addition in my book! PJH

    Reply
  36. Judy Craghead

    My go to recipe is James Beard banana bread from Beard on Bread. He offers two versions. One is with honey, but I prefer the less dense one.
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature.
    1 cup sugar.
    2 eggs.
    1 cup mashed, very ripe bananas (2 large or 3 medium)
    2 cups all-purpose flour.
    1 teaspoon baking soda.
    1/2 teaspoon salt.
    1/3 cup milk.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Judy, this recipe ALMOST made it into my post — I had to decide between this and Moosewood, and chose Moosewood as more reflective of the era. But I do look forward to making this; Beard on Bread was my go-to bread book for years, and I still turn to certain recipes often. Thanks for posting the recipe here — PJH

  37. Chris

    Great article – never knew how banana bread originated. My favorite banana bread is from a Cooking Light recipe – Jamaican Banana Nut Bread. It has coconut in it and also has a glaze made from brown sugar, butter, lime juice, rum, pecans and coconut.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Chris, that glaze sounds spectacular — though “light” as applied to sugar, butter, pecans, and coconut seems oxymoronic! 🙂 Thanks for sharing — PJH

  38. Adriana

    Thanks for the story, banana bread has always been around home. My kids have loved it since they were small and we live in such a hot place, bananas don’t last too long during spring and summer, so there are always some to mash up. I have a very simple recipe which does not need eggs and Smitten Kitchen has a really good double chocolate banana bread one, worth giving a try if you like both banana and chocolate 😋

    Reply
  39. Anne

    Thanks for the history lesson!
    I jotted down the ingredients for the 1930’s version, and guessed at the directions. But before directions say to “bake in moderate oven”, there is something referring to “30 minutes”. Is the batter supposed to sit 30 min prior to baking? Never heard of that before, but maybe batter gets more aerated?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Anne, here’s the entire recipe, courtesy of foodtimeline.org, my go-to source for all kinds of food history:
      [1930]
      “Banana-Nut Bread
      1/4 cup shortening
      1/2 cup sugar
      1 beaten egg
      1 cup bran
      2 tablespoons water
      1 1/2 cups mashed bananas
      1 1/2 cups flour
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/2 teaspoon soda
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      1/2 cup chopped nut meats
      Cream shortening and sugar until smooth; add egg, then bran, and mix [sic] thoroly. Mix water with banana and add alternately with flour which has been sifted with baking powder, salt, and soda. Mix thoroly and add vanilla and nut meats. Place in greased 1-pound loaf pan and let stand 30 minutes. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) about 1 hour. This is delicious sliced thin and served with soft cream cheese.”
      —My New Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book [Meredith Publishing:Des Moines IA] 5th edition, 1930 (p. 10)
      – PJH

  40. Sonia Vanderby

    Thanks for a great article – it was very interesting reading and seeing how recipes have changed over time and the societal influences driving the variations. I think you have my dream job, trying out and comparing so many recipes – thanks for letting us live vicariously through you!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sonia, I absolutely do have my dream job, and have been lucky to have it for over 26 years! Glad to share, if only vicariously… PJH

  41. Judy Beam

    Great article! And I liked all the replies. I think I would love to make most if not all of these recipes. But I don’t have enough bananas (and I know I could buy more but…) or loaf pans or energy to do so. LOL. I have a recipe from an old cookbook, Blue Ribbon Recipes, that I use. Only I add a dollop of sour cream to the mixture and sometimes add an extra banana. I have overripe bananas just waiting in the kitchen to bake into deliciousness!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Judy, several people have mentioned adding extra banana. I think I’ll wander off the beaten path next time and try that. Thanks for the tip — PJH

  42. Florence Bogstad

    I smiled when I saw the recipe for banana bread but right now my older bananas are being used to make my German Shepherd dog cookies…oat flour, oats mashed banana, peanut butter and an egg. Tablespoon onto parchment paper and knuckled down..300 degrees for 40 minutes. She loves them and my sons King Charles (fussy one) loves them too. Love all your info..Florence

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Florence, I might have to try that for my two big dogs; they’re always into something new in the food department. Thanks for the inspiration! PJH

  43. Claire

    I just pulled a loaf of banana bread (Thomas Keller’s banana muffins in load form) from the oven – this recipe involved cake flour and overnight refrigeration!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Interesting the overnight refrigeration. Maybe, as it does with cookies, this produces some caramelization in the crust? I’ll have to try that sometime. Thanks for sharing, Claire — PJH

  44. Roberta Hill

    I use the banana loaf recipe from Anne Byrn’s Cake Mix Doctor. I tweaked it with half a small can of mandarin oranges one day, and my four boys really enjoyed it. The oldest liked it so much I bought mini-loaf pans and made it weekly for him. All through high school he took a mini loaf in his lunch every day – he played football and could afford the calories. His friends used to joke it was “steroid bread” but several of the team moms asked for the recipe. When Anne came to Dallas on a book tour, I asked her to sign that page, and she added “I am thrilled this page is splattered!”. I found out that his girlfriend liked it too but he wouldn’t share his with her (he’s 27 now!) so the next time he brought her for Sunday dinner, I gave her a batch and told her she didn’t have to share with him!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Roberta, what lovely banana bread memories. I hope your son now has the recipe and if he bakes nothing else, is able to bake the bread and carry on your tradition… hopefully, this time, being better about sharing! 🙂 PJH

  45. Jan Wooler

    I make the same recipe I grew up on. It is from the 1948 edition of the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook. It has just enough great banana flavor and walnuts. The top wonderfully crusty and a little sweet. I’ve tried a few others and eaten many others yet I find this to be my favorite.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      When you find something you like, Jan — stick with it! Your description is very tempting… PJH

  46. Debbie

    Thanks for a lovely article.
    My local “international” grocery store often sells overripe bananas in a big bag for about $1. Yes – one Dollar for about 20 bananas! I freeze them for later use. Thanks to the comment earlier about peeling and flattening! Will do that next time.

    Reply
  47. Glenda Broome

    This is the recipe that I have used for 10+ years. It is fabulous and everyone always wants the recipe! I have a friend that makes this and sells it at local craft shows.

    Banana-Pineapple Bread

    3 eggs, beaten
    3 cups flour
    1 tsp. soda
    1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
    2 cups mashed bananas (I just throw 2 or 3 or 4 really really ripe
    bananas in the bowl in hunks)
    1/2 cup nuts (or more…)
    3 cups sugar
    1 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1 1/2 cups oil
    1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple with juice

    Mix everything together in a large bowl until well blended. Bake for one
    hour at 350 degrees in a 3 or 4 small loaf pans.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Wow, Glenda, this looks like a very rich and tasty loaf — I’m not surprised everyone wants the recipe! Thanks for sharing — PJH

  48. Cathlyne Camp-Murray

    My favorite recipe is the one my mother got in home ec in 1940. It is simple but has the best flavor and texture. There is no dairy other than butter and it uses baking soda..I always go back to it!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Cathlyne, I love it when we carry forward our mother’s or grandmother’s recipes; it’s a wonderful feeling of continuity, isn’t it? And it’s great you have a favorite go-to recipe for this ever-popular bread. Cheers! PJH

  49. Linda DV

    Our favorite banana bread recipe is from an early 60’s school auxiliary fund raiser cookbook. I like the texture of butter in quick breads, this recipe started my search for other breads made with butter. They are all favorites now. My daughter makes this into muffins and the grandkids love them. I like that the recipe uses a measurement for the bananas, I keep a note with the math worked out for the amount of bananas on hand.

    Kauki Inn Banana Bread
    2c sugar
    1c butter
    2c mashed bananas
    4 eggs
    2 1/2c flour
    1t salt
    2t baking soda
    1/2t allspice
    1t nutmeg
    1t cinnamon
    1c nuts (optional)
    Cream butter and sugar together. Add bananas and eggs. Combine dry ingredients, add to the mixture without overbeating. 350° for 45 to 50 minutes in 2 one pound loaves or 4 small loaves.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Linda, aside from the addition of the spices and the specific mention of butter (where shortening is called for in the original) this is a match for the Kona Inn banana bread recipe, a famous recipe from that iconic Hawaiian hotel. It’s interesting how a recipe passes from hand to hand, acquiring tweaks along the way (including, in this case, changing Kona to Kauki). Since you’re the second person championing this bread, I definitely have to make it soon! Thanks for sharing — PJH

  50. Benita Moore

    The banana nut bread of my childhood was made with Bisquick. Still my favorite. bettycrocker.com/recipes/bisquick-banana-nut-bread/987a8437-68af-4434-a474-152d9329251e

    Reply
  51. Carolyn D Bellah

    My banana bread recipe is in the 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking. It uses pecans but no spices. It was a revised and expanded version of previous editions so its recipes still called for sugar and butter. There was a small section added near the back which offered some sugarless or low-sugar recipes and suggestions as well as a few for meatless or meat stretcher meals. (Sugar was first rationed in the spring of ’42; then coffee in the fall followed by meat and many other commodities. Sugar was rationed until 1947 though most rationing ended right after the war.) The book was given to me as a 13th birthday present in ’45…I wasn’t cooking much at the time. However. my mother used it frequently until I married in the mid-50’s and it’s been used heavily since then and is held together with a heavy-duty rubber band. The banana bread page is heavily splattered. Reckon Mrs Rombauer would be pleased?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      One thing is for sure; Mrs. Rombauer is smiling down on you every time you pull out the freckly bananas and turn to that weathered page! Happy banana bread baking, Carolyn! Kye@KAF

  52. Betsy

    Hi PJ,

    I have been making my Grandmother’s banana bread recipe all of my life. Unfortunately I never knew my Grandmother, she passed away one month after I was born, so when I do make it I feel it’s a connection to her. I’m assuming the recipe is from the 30’s but it’s not like anyone else’s I’ve ever seen. It does not use any type of spices and is so good my sister used it for her wedding cake! It is made with shortening and I have tried using coconut oil instead (it tasted like a commercial bakery cake, eww). My next try will be with lard, just to see how it will come out (trying to get away from the hydrogenated fats). I am able to get fresh rendered lard from a local butcher. I knew it was special when my brother-in-law told me it was better than his grandmother’s and then begged me to please not say anything to her or she would be furious with him! I wanted to say how much I love your tutorials and all of your experiments, it has taught me to not be afraid to experiment with baking. Thanks so much!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sounds like banana bread holds a special place in your family’s baking repertoire, Betsy. Those are certainly the recipes that taste the best and are most worthy for celebrations, especially weddings! Thanks for sharing with us, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  53. Elohor

    Thanks for such great article, reading thru was like watching an interesting movie. I have never tasted or seen a banana bread before. i’m sure going to bake some myself soon. Once again thanks.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Margaret, sounds like you’ve taken your banana bread to a new level — thanks for sharing. PJH

  54. Barb

    Loved the article on banana bread. My current favorite is Six-Banana Banana Bread by Averie Sunshine that I found on Pinterest. I also like the banana bread from Cook’s Illustrated.

    Reply
  55. Nancy Schaefer

    One of my aunts made a favorite version: the banana bread had a light texture like coffee cake, and she covered it before baking with a mixture of grated orange peel, chopped pecans, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon. Really wonderful flavors.

    Reply
  56. SB

    PJ, if you do make the banana-cashew pancakes, you might want to turn the heat down a little, they brown fast and I think the flavor is best when they are medium brown, not dark brown. Also, the recipe says it makes four servings – must be four lumberjacks! I think it makes more like 8-10 servings.

    Reply
  57. Louise

    I really enjoyed this post. After reading it, I pulled out the Moosewood Cookbook and the banana bread is now in the oven. What a great combination of ingredients, thanks for the reminder. I haven’t been baking much lately and appreciate the inspiration.

    Reply
  58. Sheri

    I had some overripe bananas so made a batch tonight and started wondering how banana bread started. I had a notion of British colonists in tropical regions. The depression connection makes sense (but the leavening issue raises more questions for me as to how people did biscuits and such before!) although I wonder who was the first. As for chocolate chips, I am totally opposed to chocolate chips in banana bread, raisin cookies, muffins–basically, in anything but ice cream or actual chocolate chip cookies. So I make one loaf with chips for my son and one with walnuts for myself.

    Reply
  59. Mary T. Morris

    I the 1980s I bought a large metal bundt pan, and a recipe book came with it. Inside was a recipe for banana-nut bread using all-bran. It was my go-to recipe while we were stationed throughout the Caribbean and we loved it. Dense like old-fashioned applesauce bread, with lots of banana, and toasted great. Somehow in moving, the recipe book and the old cookbook I kept it in got lost, and I have never found a recipe that would fill my bundt pan. Anyone out there have one?? I keep talking about it to my grand-kids and really, really miss making it ( & moreso eating/sharing it). Email me if you have one please. marytmorris@yahoo.com [I will share it, you can be sure!]

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Mary, while we don’t have the exact recipe you’re looking for, we do have a recipe for Banana Muffins that contains oat bran for texture, flavor, and nutrition. Check it out and see if you can use that as a place to start recreating the recipe you remember so fondly. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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