(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 23, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Though I am not dedicated enough to attempt to grow my own tropical banana tree in central Illinois, I do frequently buy their mellow fruits at the grocery store. They are an excellent fresh after-school snack for the kids, but they have definite advantages for the more "mature" among us, as well! Did you know that bananas are an excellent source of potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure, and alleviate joint pain and muscle cramps? The potassium in bananas is actually more easily absorbed than the potassium in other common sources, like orange juice.

Banana Tree at Des Moines, Iowa Botanical CenterIf you frequently purchase bananas, you probably already know that you can buy them green and leave them at room temperature to ripen. Did you know that if you place them in the refrigerator when at their peak of ripeness, the peels will turn an unsightly dark color, but the fruit inside will stay firm and ripe?

Personally, I prefer to let a few bananas pass the point of ripeness on the kitchen counter, until the skins turn dark all over and the fruits are soft and golden inside. This gives me an excuse to bake one of my favorite treats, banana bread! Overripe bananas lend a much richer flavor to the bread than firmer bananas, and are easier to mash, as well! If I don't have the time to bake a loaf immediately, I peel the overripe bananas, seal them in a heavy freezer bag, and stash them in the door of my freezer. I do encourage you to label the bag, as the contents tend to look quite unappetizing. My dear, tolerant husband has finally learned to recognize those baggies of unappealing mush for what they are, after a few episodes in which he cried in disgust, "What on earth is THIS?" This is also a good way to save individual bananas until you have enough over-ripe fruits to make good banana bread. Each average-sized banana will yield about ½ cup of mashed banana.

Once you are ready to bake your bread, pull the baggie from the freezer and remove the bananas, still frozen, from the bag, cutting the seams with scissors if necessary. This is much easier than thawing it first, then trying to scrape all the mush from the bag! Proceed with your favorite banana bread recipe, or try this one, which is one of my most-requested recipes! Even long-time coconut-haters find they enjoy combination of flavors in this rich, mellow bread! And I love anything that involves chocolate. . .

Chocolate Chip-Banana Bread with Coconut Streusel Mixing up a double batch of banana bread

Makes 1 loaf
Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake at 350 F for 1 hour, 10 minutes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup buttermilk
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 average bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup shredded sweetened flake coconut
½ cup pecan halves
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 F. Coat a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Spoon a little white sugar into the pans, and shake to distribute around the bottom and lower half of the sides of the pan. This will give a lovely crystalled crust to the finished bread.

Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, soda, and salt in a large bowl. Beat eggs and sugar in medium-sized bowl. Beat in oil, buttermilk, bananas, and vanilla. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add egg mixture. Stir just until flour mixture is moistened and batter comes together. Fold in 1/3 cup coconut, nuts, and chocolate. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Bake in 350 F oven 1 hour, 10 minutes, until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Turn loaf out on rack to cool.

Finished loafIf you are a truly dedicated chocolate-lover, or have nut allergies in your family, you can substitute an additional 1/2 cup of chocolate chips for the pecan halves.

My grandmother taught me that banana bread tastes even better if you wrap it tightly and let it "age" for a day, to allow the banana flavor ample opportunity to infuse the loaf. If I plan to do that, however, I have to make two loaves, because we can't resist eating one warm! I also enjoy baking these in mini loaf pans to give at the holidays, along with a copy of the recipe.

For those of us who prefer a more traditional loaf, this recipe comes with the highest recommendations from Terry Lea, our own Dave's Garden administrator. Terry shares, "This is by far the BEST banana bread recipe I've ever tried, consistently producing moist loaves with a deliciously crisp crust. The black walnuts were always added to my grandma's banana bread, and I think they are a perfect flavor complement to bananas. But they're not for everyone; you can leave out the nuts, or use plain English walnuts if preferred. In my humble opinion, this bread is even better the next day if you cover it with a tea towel overnight."

Sour Cream Banana Nut Bread

1 stick butter (or margarine) softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (you can substitute plain or vanilla yogurt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (black walnuts are my personal fave for this recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar in mixer bowl. Beat in eggs, sour cream, vanilla and soda until creamy. Add flour gradually, mixing well after each addition. Fold in bananas and nuts. Pour into greased 9- by 5-inch loaf pan. Bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. (You may need to cover the top during the last 15 or 20 minutes to prevent overbrowning.)

For more luscious banana bread recipes from Dave's Garden members, check out this link to a recipe thread started in honor of National Banana Bread Day back in 2005.


All pictures included in this article are my own.

If you would like to read more about growing banana plants in less-than-tropical zones, you will enjoy this article:

Go Bananas! Growing Tropical Banana Trees in Maryland by Jill M. Nicholaus (Critterologist)