Kristen Miglore’s Family Banana Bread Is Genius


Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Even though I’ve written about (and loved) many quick cakes and muffins and their ilk in 10 years of Genius Recipes—including at least three banana breads (1)—the recipe my mom always made when I was growing up is the one I turn to first and most. The original version, without my extraneous tips, was barely over 30 words long, unattributed in a spiral-bound community cookbook. The title, plainly: Banana Bread.

This simplicity is no doubt key to its longevity, for my family and for me. I can make it anytime I need a gift or a pick-me-up—or both, since it makes two loaves, one for us, one for them. Or whenever my freezer gets precariously full of overripe bananas and they start to fall at my feet.

When life just keeps giving you bananas.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Lauren Lapenna. Prop Stylist: Sophia Pappas.

I know I can get it in the oven in about 15 minutes, with whatever baking supplies I have on hand. It can weather my whims and experiments, as I switched from creamed shortening to melted butter for speed, wedged it into the pans I had nearby, and tinkered with flours and sweeteners and mix-ins freely, knowing there would always be more chances to get it right. It was even my daughter’s first birthday cake of the pandemic and of her life—no frosting but plenty of chocolate chunks and crunchy sugar on top. It fits into our life, no matter what life has put in front of us.

As I’ve started asking more about its history in my family, it seems this recipe has been just as bendable for my relatives. My Aunt Peggy first shared it with my mom from a book called A Plan for All Seasons: A Menu Cookbook by the Stanford Junior Women of Pasadena. The notes on my mom’s hand-copied recipe (2) say they first made it at Christmas 1983, which means it was one of my first cakes, too.

There’s a dedicated column for the adaptations my mom made in the 1980s to protect my dad’s cholesterol—oat bran for flour, honey for sugar, faux eggs, no salt. (They ultimately returned to the original, deciding to fight cholesterol in other ways.) After my aunt’s cookbook collection was swallowed by the Oakland fire in 1991, my mom combed thrift shops and used bookstores to find replacements. In her new copy, Peggy’s notes in the margins document sprinkling the walnuts on top for a “crunchy rich topping.” Sometimes, they say, she adds chocolate chips, too.

Now, no matter what version I turn out, my daughter will eat outrageous amounts before we realize what’s happening, so I think she’s destined to get attached to this recipe for life, too. And like me, I hope she’ll make it her own.

(1) One from Nigel Slater had fancy sugar and chocolate, one from Lucy Cufflin had a full cup of mayonnaise, one from Samantha Seneviratne took half the time because it was actually a scone.

(2) I emailed myself and my brother a photo of a photocopy of my mom’s hand-copied version so we’d never be further from an inbox search from it.

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