THE SUMMER GARDEN
When Tatiana, the main character in The Summer Garden, first came to America, the bananas never ripened. They never ripened because she would eat them before they did. She bought them barely yellow and ate them barely yellow. She had never eaten bananas in the Soviet Union and now feasted on them the way she feasted on bacon.
Then slowly, the bananas started hanging on the hook longer and longer, getting more yellow, getting black-pitted. She didn’t like to eat them when they were overripe, so she started figuring out what else to do with them. She put them over her cold cereal, ate them with vanilla yogurt, mashed them and put them in her pancakes, and she dipped them in chocolate (20 ounces melted chocolate chips, 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter) and called them chocolate covered bananas. She served them at barbecues with chocolate covered strawberries and they were the highlight of the party. But the bananas were still going too ripe. She could have just stopped buying them, but that was like saying she should stop making bread every other day. The bananas represented a different life. Bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, corn, turkey were all symbols of the new world. So she bought them every time she bought milk, like a staple, and they hung on the hook longer and longer.
That’s when Tatiana started making banana bread. She tinkered with this recipe, putting in too many eggs and too much flour, not enough sugar, not enough bananas. There was a period of months in the ’50s when Alexander, Tatiana’s husband, and Anthony, their son, ate banana bread every week. One took it to work, one took it to school.
‘‘Is it good?’’ she would ask them, and they would reply, ‘‘It is good.’’
She would pause. ‘‘Why don’t you like it?’’
‘‘I like it,’’ Alexander would say.
‘‘No, you don’t. I can tell by your face. Why are you reserved? Why don’t you like it?’’
‘‘I’m not reserved. I like it.’’
The next day there would be new banana bread.
‘‘Try this. Maybe this is better. I put more sugar in.’’ Alexander would taste it.
‘‘It is good.’’
‘‘Oh, no. Why don’t you like it?’’
And so it went. Still her boys took it with them, but finally, after months went by, Tatiana figured it out. ‘‘OK,’’ she said. ‘‘Taste this.’’
Alexander tasted. ‘‘Oh my God.’’
‘‘Ah. Now you like it.’’
And the irony was, once she figured it out, she stopped making it quite as much, but the irony was, once she figured it out, Alexander and Anthony couldn’t stop asking for it.
This is that recipe.
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1⁄3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
½ cup chocolate chips (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9-inch loaf pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer. Add eggs, lemon juice, orange peel, water, and vanilla, and combine. Add the bananas, mixing thoroughly so the bananas become smooth, not chunky. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt, and fold into the banana mixture on low speed until just mixed. Fold in the walnuts, or chocolate chips, or both, if desired. Everyone loves the chocolate chips.
3. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until pick inserted just off center comes up clean. Leave in pan for 5–10 minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack.
Yield: 1 9-inch loaf