If you find yourself relating to any of the characters in J.D. Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” you’d better hope it’s the bananafish, not the humans. For those who aren’t familiar with this piece of work, let’s just say it’s not the kind of story that inspires faith in the nature of mankind.
According to the story’s protagonist, the eponymous bananafish are creatures that look like normal fish but are, well, bananas about bananas (which apparently live in banana holes under the sea).
“They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as 78 bananas.”
—“A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” J.D. Salinger
Following this binge, the bananafish inevitably contract banana fever and die. What a sad fate. Unlike bananafish, I’ve never really understood the fuss about bananas. I rarely snack on them in their natural state, but I do love banana desserts—especially banana bread. It’s a good thing we humans are lucky enough to restrain ourselves from eating 78 bananas at a time, so we can safely enjoy banana bread without catching banana fever.
Banana bread is a pretty low-maintenance dessert (great for beginners), but the one non-negotiable prerequisite is that you must have ripe bananas in your possession.
That said, the first two steps to successful banana bread are easy: (1) Purchase the bananas (usually you’ll need about three large bananas for one loaf), and (2) Let the bananas ripen until they’re heavily speckled. Err on the side of ripe.
If, by the time the bananas are ripe, you feel that it simply isn’t the perfect day for banana bread, no sweat: Unpeel the bananas and store them in an airtight bag in the freezer. They’ll be ready for you to defrost any time you’re ready.
Speaking of ripe things, the following recipe is ripe for adaptations. I happen to enjoy banana bread that has chocolate chunks rather than walnuts, but I know plenty of people who like nuts in their banana bread, and others who prefer using butter rather than oil.
That said, there’s nothing phony about adapting a recipe to suit your tastes; feel free to do as much experimentation as you like. Perhaps you might bake a version with chocolate and chopped hazelnuts for a Nutella lover’s potluck. Just don’t invite any bananafish over, or things are going to get ugly.
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 extra-large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks (optional)
Combine the mashed bananas, oil, sugar, egg, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. In another bowl, sift and combine the baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Stir in the chocolate chunks, if you plan to use them.
Bake in loaf pan at 350° F for 1 hour, until a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean.