(by Carol Lippert Gray)
I started baking banana muffins in the late 1970s, when I bought my first Cuisinart. The recipe was at the end of the instruction manual, and they became a favorite with my older daughter, who was still in the single digits at the time. The straightforward ingredients—flour, sugar, eggs, leavening, nuts, and ripe bananas—created a delicious alchemy. The recipe called for a teaspoon of lemon juice, but sometimes I’d substitute a splash of orange juice. I called it my secret ingredient.
In 1984, my younger daughter was born with a host of food allergies, nuts among them. When she was old enough to sample the muffins, I substituted chocolate chips for the walnuts. There were no complaints.
Fast forward to 1992. My husband, my daughters’ father, died of melanoma, following a
12-year battle. I sold our house, which had become too expensive for me to maintain, and moved closer to my job. The three of us were scarred by this sequence of events, but my younger daughter suffered the most. Still reeling and aching from her father’s loss, it was hard for her to adjust to a new home and new school. The mean girls sensed her vulnerability. She was bullied horribly. Unresolved grief and fresh trauma, both exacerbated by managing her food allergies, caused her to all but stop eating. She became dangerously thin, and every meal became a battleground.
After one poor fit, I found her a wonderful therapist. There were weekly sessions, and at the end of each, I was invited into the room so the three of us could talk. During one such meeting, the therapist asked my daughter which food she missed eating the most. Without hesitation, she said, “My mom’s banana muffins.”
It was a surprise. It was poignant. It was agonizing to hear.
Slowly, as she began to heal, I began to bake banana muffins again.
Fast forward again to 2006, when I became a grandmother for the first time, thanks to Elder Daughter. When my grandson was old enough, he began to devour the muffins. When his sister came along, she began to devour the muffins. Their mother says if allowed, they’d eat the muffins for every meal.
These grandchildren live in Virginia. I live in New York City. When they visit, there’s always a fresh batch. The first thing out of their mouths—after a brief hug—is, “Where are the muffins?” My granddaughter, now ten, who helps me bake them when she visits, delights in whispering the “secret ingredient” to her friends. “It’s not a visit without muffins,” says my daughter. “They symbolize a grandmother’s love, caring, and nurturing.” When she visits on her own, she’s expected to bring muffins back home. And when I visit, I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowed through their front door without a bag of banana muffins in hand. These are well-traveled muffins.
In 2018, Younger Daughter blessed me with another granddaughter. She was introduced to banana muffins as soon as she could eat solid food. We sold them to her by calling them Grammy’s Munchkins. Now she, too, can’t eat them fast enough.
But their provenance is important. Elder Daughter says, “My children do not, under any circumstances, want me to make these muffins. They are Grammy muffins, and that’s final. I’m also not allowed to make any other type of banana muffin; those would just be pathetic imitations.”
If there’s one food—and one leitmotif—that most threads its way through our family’s culinary history, it is the banana muffin from the back of a Cuisinart pamphlet. If there is one memory of me and one taste my daughters and grandchildren will carry with them always, it is the banana muffin. They know it’s a pleated paper cupful of love. That thought fills me with great joy.
Carol Lippert Gray is an award-winning public relations professional, freelance writer and editor in New York City. She has reported on diverse fields including crafts, corporate finance, parenting, and philanthropy. She serves on several arts-related boards and writes regularly for Sanctuary Magazine.
1 1/3 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. baking powder
2/3 c. sugar
1 t. lemon or orange juice
3 oz. (3/4 stick) butter
1 1/4 c. peeled banana
1 c. chopped walnuts or chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine sugar, lemon or orange juice, and butter.
Process until well mixed, about 20 seconds.
Scrape sides of processor bowl, add banana, and process for 5 seconds.
Add eggs, and process for 5 seconds.
If using walnuts, add them and pulse once.
Add flour mixture and pulse 4 or 5 times, or until flour disappears. (Don't overprocess.)
If using chocolate chips, fold them in.
Bake in paper-lined muffin cups until a toothpick comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
Alternatively, bake in a well-greased loaf pan for about 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out dry. Note: I save overripe, peeled bananas in the freezer to use here. Let them defrost on the counter for a bit before using. Sometimes there's a little more batter than the recipe indicates because the saved bananas are a little bigger. In that case, I just bake the excess in small, well greased tins.