(by Ann-Rebecca Laschever)
Long before Covid-19 and quarantine, decades before banana bread became a wildly popular way to make the days go by, and people were looking to make the perfect comfort food, my mom, Dolores, was baking the most delicious and memorable banana bread for my family. My first memory of it is from the time my older sister, Sara, went away to boarding school; I was just eight.
We weren't your typical boarding school family—we were middle class Jews, and both my parents were journalists with modest paychecks—but we lived in a very rural part of Connecticut, and although the school district had a strong vocational agriculture department, the other departments didn't quite live up to my parents' expectations. Two of my siblings had skipped grades, and my oldest brother, Jonathan, had graduated high school in three years. My parents decided it was time to look at an alternative for high school for the rest of us. Kent School was only a 40-minute drive from our home, so my parents were within easy reach if my sister needed them. It was a well-respected school whose motto was Temperantia, Fiducia, Constantia—Simplicity of Life, Directness of Purpose, Self-Reliance. Everyone had jobs (washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, sweeping hallways), and uniforms were required, so the scholarship students didn't stand out from the wealthy students the way they did at other area boarding schools. My parents thought it was a good choice.
Being the youngest of four children, I shared a special connection with my mom. We liked going to garden stores together and collecting cacti; we loved dogs (and fostered a few guide dogs for the blind); she taught me how to sew; and we enjoyed baking together. We both really loved chocolate, and that was the key to her banana bread—the inclusion of chocolate chips. We would mash the ripest bananas and mix them in with all the other ingredients at the linoleum-covered counter of the cramped kitchen in our drafty 1810 farmhouse. I can still remember the sweet smell of the bread baking in the oven, while our menagerie of dogs and cats mingled around our feet.
(one of our rare camping trips)
When we went to visit my sister, she and her roommate and other friends would suddenly appear like seagulls to see if we had brought my mom's banana bread. It was so popular that Sara started getting special requests for it, and the tradition continued when my brother Adam and later I followed Sara to Kent. Since we lived closer to the school than many other families, my parents visited more often, and my mom became a sort of surrogate mother to many of my sister's and later my friends, hosting us on the rare weekend we were allowed off campus for “overnights.” We were launched, as the saying goes, at a much younger age than many, but it did indeed instill self-reliance and directness of purpose in all three of us, and we were all very independent when we were just young teenagers.
I’ve continued the tradition of the banana bread, sending it to my nephews at college, making it for my husband and sons and office colleagues (I’ve made more than my share of it during quarantine).
My mom died a few months ago at the age of 92, at the end of a year filled with loss and grief. Although her death was not Covid-related, the pandemic restrictions kept us from seeing her during the last ten months of her life, except for a few unsatisfying Zoom calls, and in person at the very end to say goodbye, masked and shielded.
After her passing, notes flooded in from friends, family, and young reporters that she mentored (if ever there was a year that Facebook could provide solace in a time of grief, this was it). They reminded me that she was much more than a wife and mother. She was the first person in her extended family to go to college, graduating from the University of Michigan Journalism School, when few women were attending college. She had a long, successful career as a reporter, editor, and columnist for various newspapers in Connecticut. She traveled the world and guided many young people on their path to adulthood—exchange students, cub reporters, foster children (and her own four). Many of the condolence notes remarked on her hospitality, her cooking, her generosity of spirit, her amazing steadying presence. One friend wrote, “There are a precious few people you can point to in your life and say ‘this person was the embodiment of love,' but Dolores was one of those people."
Only our family and a few long-time friends gathered at the graveside funeral. Since we were unable to have a reception, I made mini banana breads for everyone to take home, along with the recipe. In some ways, the banana bread is a perfect representation of my mom's love, how she always wanted to feed people, how she welcomed people into her home from all corners of the world, and how sweet she was to everyone. Even in her later years as dementia stole her from us, her aides always commented on her sweetness.
As sweet and comforting as her banana bread.
Ann-Rebecca Laschever is executive vice-president of Geoffrey Weill Associates, a public relations agency specializing in travel and tourism. She lives in Woodmere, New York..
Dolores's Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Use the ripest (almost rotten) bananas you can find. The yellow peels should be at least half browned, and the bananas inside squishy and browning. My mom always made it in a Bundt pan, but I use a loaf pan.
2 - 3 very ripe bananas, peeled (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 c. mashed)
1/3 c. melted butter, unsalted or salted
1 t. baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 c. brown sugar (1/2 c. if you like it less sweet, 1 c. if more sweet)
1 large egg, beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. and butter a 4 x 8-inch loaf pan.
In a mixing bowl, mash ripe bananas with a fork until completely smooth.
Stir in melted butter.
Add baking soda and salt.
Stir in sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract.
Mix in flour and chocolate chips.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 - 55 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and let cool completely.
Slice with a serrated knife.