Last week I made my grandmother’s banana bread and I have been thinking of her ever since. Cooking is a powerful thing: it takes us back to the past not only through taste but through doing the exact same ritual, following the same steps as someone in the past.
I’ve been wanting to post for a while about the deaths of my four grandparents, two of whom died this past year and the other two almost-a-decade and over-a-decade ago. What better time to post than 10 minutes into a uterine pathology lecture?
With each of my grandparents’s deaths, I felt a drastically different emotion. With my mother’s mother (whose banana bread recipe this is), I became anxious, and remember clinging to my mother over the months that we visited New Jersey as my grandmother was dying. It was my first taste of dying and the parallels between my mother’s mother and my mother were obvious to me. When my first grandfather died, I felt pure grief, which was a relief in a way because sadness has been sanctified as a normal emotion around death. My second grandmother’s death made me sad in a quiet sort of way, as I felt that it was “her time,” relatively speaking; I’ve written about her here and here. When my last grandparent died, I felt relief because he had been a difficult man whose relationships with others were equally difficult — and later I felt guilt at that relief. I haven’t written about him at all.
All of this to reflect that some emotions around death are expected, others a surprise; some endorsed, others shameful. Our patients’ family members may not feel as we expect them to feel — and certainly not all feel the same way — and it is up to us to observe, listen, and modify the comfort we offer. Perhaps that makes empathy more interesting.
My Grandmother’s Banana Bread
- 1 1/4 cups white sugar
- 1 stick butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
- 1 1/2 cups flour (white or whole wheat)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup mushy/smashed/rotten bananas (about 3-4 bananas)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan. Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Separately, lightly beat the baking soda into the sour cream until dissolved; add to the mix and beat well. Stir in bananas, flour and salt and mix well. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean; better undercooked than overcooked.
The original recipe is written out in my grandmother’s handwriting on a water-stained index card in a tin at home. Smitten Kitchen has an interesting and amusing post about how many of our “grandmother’s recipes” originated in the 50s; no promises that this banana bread goes back to the old country.
The Med School Cookbook offers a weekly account of the challenges and wonders of med school as seen through the eyes of a student. Each post includes a healthy and easy recipe designed for busy people on a budget. Read the daily blog here.