2020 has turned out to be a bit of a shit show so far, eh? Going outside feels like the beginning of a zombie movie, we've become deadened to the impact of terrifying newsreels and people are still hoarding toilet paper like precious jewels in an old school PC game.
But in the midst of all this toil and strife, 2020 has brought back to the fore the glorious sticky loaf of yellow and brown. The temporary salve of our anxieties; the rectangular saviour of time spent indoors. Your best friend and mine in these Unprecedented Times™... banana bread.
According to Google Trends, searches for banana bread have gone up 84% in the UK in the last 30 days, and 54% worldwide. Such is its popularity, one astute person went so far as to ask Twitter: "Is Covid-19 sponsored by banana bread?"
It’s in every fifth story you tap through on Instagram; Chrissy Teigen is using it to barter for lettuce; the Derry Girls are baking it; Elaine Welteroth is using it to get acquainted with her kitchen; celebrities love banana bread. It’s a definite thing. From an anecdotal standpoint, my informal Slack survey of the Refinery29 UK office showed that the number of BBBs (banana bread bakers) is already in double digits, with one colleague making four loaves in the two weeks since we all started working from home.
While its ubiquity might be baffling for some, the interest seems inevitable in some ways. Just as the British public turned to carrot cake during World War II, it seems as though bananas are the produce many of us grabbed from supermarket shelves when it became clear we were heading towards a lockdown.
this may be a really stupid question but why is everyone making banana bread? like specifically banana bread? I get baking is fun to cure boredom but why banana bread? it’s all I’ve seen people make! 😂— soph ✨ (@sophdoeslife) March 29, 2020
Now, a couple of weeks later, the browning bananas languishing on kitchen counters around the world have been taken up in the search for more wholesome comfort during anxious, socially distant times. Unless you are an essential worker, you’re likely to have more time on your hands right now than ever before. So when the healthy, responsible decision is to stay indoors for the foreseeable, becoming a BBB (I’m sticking with this now) is an easy stepping stone into enjoyably filling your time once you’re sick of bingeing Netflix.
Baking, like other wholesome-almost-to-the-point-of-twee hobbies, has long been a go-to activity in times of extreme difficulty. I’ve baked my way out of an eating disorder relapse before, and spent the best part of last year knitting (and crocheting and cross-stitching) as a way of allaying a sudden onset of severe anxiety. These somewhat old-fashioned hobbies are grounding in their mundanity – the simplicity of being able to produce something out of frenetic, anxious energy can make you feel rooted when you spend so much time floating around in the anger and uncertainty on which the online world thrives.
It makes sense to me that on a global scale we’re turning on our ovens and dusting off our loaf pans to pass the time. And of all the recipe choices, banana bread feels the most accessible – unlike the other baking route many are going down with their slowly fermenting bread starters which are nurtured over days, it is as easy as mashing your old ass bananas together before stirring in the other ingredients and whacking them in a greased loaf tin. You get all the comfort and wholesomeness of home baking with far less wait time, skill and equipment.
"Banana bread is a great entry point into baking," says food writer and chef Anna Barnett. "You can build up your confidence and get more experimental over time. I suspect a lot of people are kidding themselves that it's a healthy breakfast too. And why not? We deserve a treat in these tough times."
There is an inclination in the world of social media to see everything through a veil of irony; to mock the sincerity of people taking up hobbies they’ve never had the time or the facilities for before now. You can see it in the reaction to people’s sourdough starters, or the dismissal of people starting to write novels. It might seem overzealous to celebrate something as relatively benign as banana bread right now. But banana bread is the everyman’s loaf. It is the entry point to something simple and joyful and I will defend it to the death.
You may not be able to order your first ball of yarn or that boutique jigsaw you saw on an influencer’s story but you’re far more likely to rustle up the rudimentary ingredients for baking. Even if you can’t, there are infinite substitution possibilities: egg-free versions! Vegan versions! Flour-free versions! As baking goes it’s hard to fuck up and even has a veil of health. Although if you go so far as to count it towards one of your five-a-day, well, you can go on pretending, quite frankly. We wouldn't want to spoil it for you.
Here are some of our favourite recipes:
On 31st March one reviewer commented of this recipe: "Came out perfectly, nice and moist and just over the 30 mins cooking time. I’m 50 and this was the first thing I have ever baked." Can't say fairer than that.
Of the many staples missing from supermarket shelves right now, eggs are some of the hardest to get hold of. But that's no barrier to baking something delicious if you have a great recipe.
One of the great things about banana bread is how easy it is to integrate substitutions, making it a prime example of vegan baking excellence.
No flour at your local supermarket? No problem! All you need are some oats and a blender to whip up this loaf.
Feeling like something a bit more adventurous? You can't do better than this tahini recipe for the perfect indulgent slice.