Susie’s Pumpkin Banana Bread

As a missionary for World Impact, our niece Susie spent many years working with Spanish-speaking immigrants, first in Los Angeles, California, and later in Wichita, Kansas.  She lived in the neighborhood where she ministered, teaching Bible clubs to the kids and various adult classes as well, all designed to guide people to a faith in God and eventually to establish churches.  No longer a missionary, Susie now teaches English as a Second Language in the Wichita school system to students from Asia and Africa as well as many from South and Central America.

She brought two loaves of a golden bread to a family dinner the last time we visited Jerri’s relatives in Kansas.  After two slices I asked her for the recipe and an explanation of how she came to make such a great-tasting treat as Pumpkin Banana Bread.

As she tells the story, when she moved back to Kansas from California, she wanted to plant a new church for underserved Latinos in Wichita.  She recruited a team which spent weeks walking and praying through three lower-income neighborhoods which had a large percentage of Spanish-speaking residents. They wanted to move and were seeking God’s guidance about which neighborhood was ready for a Spanish-speaking church plant.

On one prayer-walk, they discovered the “perfect house” with a large back yard for BBQ’s and rooms large enough for ESL classes, Bible studies and worship services.  However, the house was already under contract—even if World Impact had been able to afford it. They settled on an empty house with a complicated financial situation that the owners let them use for the summer to teach Bible clubs.  When the bank could not release the building for sale by summer’s end, Susie called to find out if the “perfect house” had in fact been sold.

Surprised to hear that the contract had fallen through, Susie convinced the World Impact leaders to tour the house. They could see the home’s potential for ministry and decided to move ahead. With lots of prayer and a generous gift from a WI board member, Susie and her team had a home for the new church. As Susie concludes the story, “We closed on the house in September, moved in in October, sent out a fund-raising letter in November, and paid off the house completely by the end of the year. ONLY GOD could have done that!”

Susie continues, “So. . . where does the bread fit in? We started an ESL class to get to know our neighbors. We had a big table and a big dining room, and we had fun, lively classes! But in the Latino community, there are always refreshments at every get-together. What could I serve? I bought some delicious Mexican pastries one day, but that proved to be too expensive to do regularly.  So, I decided to serve different kinds of homemade bread and coffee or tea. I made the bread and froze it so I wouldn’t have to bake before each class. The ladies loved the bread, and I accumulated quite a collection of recipes. The Pumpkin-Banana Bread was one of the breads that I served to my ESL class. They enjoyed it, and it also became a favorite of our young director!

“By the way, we planted our church–La Iglesia de Cristo Victorioso! They first met in our living room, but now they have their own building and their own pastor. They are currently completely independent from World Impact and are doing well.”

Here is Susie’s recipe for a really delicious banana bread complemented by pumpkin!

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

3 1/3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ginger

2/3 cup water

1 15 oz. can mashed pumpkin

1/2 cup mashed, ripe banana

3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

PROCEDURE:

Grease the bottoms and a half-inch up the sides of two 9 x 5″ loaf pans and set them aside.  Preheat the oven to 350º and lightly toast the pecans by stirring them in a small skillet over moderate heat until they begin to change color.  Mash the banana.

In a very large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed until they are well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat them into the sugar and oil.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger into a separate mixing bowl.  Add the flour alternately with the water to the sugar mixture, beating after each addition just until the flour is combined with the liquids. 

Beat in the pumpkin and banana until you have a smooth batter. Blend in the pecans, and spoon the batter into the pans.

Bake for fifty to sixty minutes.  Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf.  If it comes out clean, the bread is done. If not, bake for another five to six minutes and check again.

Remove the pans from the oven and allow them to cool for about fifteen minutes on a rack.   Loosen the loaves from the pans and turn them out to finish cooling on the rack. 

NOTES:  Susie says that she often substitutes apple sauce for part of the oil and that you can use more mashed banana.  I mashed a large banana which produced three-fourths of a cup, and the bread turned out fine.  Incidentally, I like to butter my banana bread.

Speaking from experience, I urge you to be very careful when you toast the pecans.  I heat a small cast iron skillet first, pour in the pecans and use a wooden spoon to stir the pecans continuously.  As soon as the nuts begin to change color, remove the pan from the heat and pour the pecans into a small bowl.

As Susie suggests, you can freeze this bread and serve it a couple of weeks later.

Fruited Irish Soda Bread

Traditional Irish soda bread was probably first baked around 1840, a few years after baking soda was introduced to the island.  It was made with whole wheat flour, little or no sugar, a teaspoon of baking soda, some salt and sour milk.  It was a bread to dip into your tea or soup, something that also went well with boiled potatoes or cabbage and, if you were lucky, a slab of cheese or a piece of bacon or fish.

Today, many recipes for Irish soda bread include raisins or other dried fruits.  In the nineteenth century dried fruits would have been an expensive addition to the bread.  They were probably reserved for holidays or other occasions when housewives wanted to make a special treat for their families.  Besides adding flavor, the fruit also helps keep the bread moist for a longer period.

However, this bread tastes so good that it seldom lasts more than a day or two.  I think it tastes better slightly warm, so we like to pop it into the toaster or microwave for a few seconds before slathering on the butter. 

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup raisins

1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries

1/2 tsp. brandy

1/2 tsp. port wine

1/2 tsp. water

4 cups all-purpose flour plus a little more to sprinkle on the loaf

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup butter 

2 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

PROCEDURE:

Start by washing your hands and plumping the fruit.  Put the raisins and dried cherries or cranberries into a microwavable bowl or measuring cup.  Add about a half teaspoon each of brandy, port wine and water.  Cover and microwave on high for twenty seconds, then stir the fruit and microwave another twenty seconds.  Repeat one more time and let the fruit cool.  If you see liquid on the bottom of the container, stir the fruit until the liquid has been absorbed.

Melt the butter and set it aside to cool to a warm room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.  Stir the fruit into the dry ingredients, making sure that they are evenly distributed.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl until they are lemon colored.  Set aside a tablespoon of the beaten egg in a small bowl.  Beat a cup of buttermilk into the eggs, then beat in the butter.

Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry mixture.  This will take a minute or two until all the flour mixture has been moistened.  Using your hands, gently work the dough for a few seconds and shape it into a ball. 

Put the ball on the parchment paper and paint the surface with the beaten egg reserved in the cup.   Sprinkle a little flour over the surface and use a sharp knife to cut a half-inch-deep cross on top of the loaf.

Bake on the center shelf of the oven for forty-five to fifty-five minutes until the loaf is a golden brown.  The bread will be done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf registers 190º.

NOTES:  Do not knead the dough.  Just form it into a ball as if you were making a big meatball.  Some people like this soda bread with jam or jelly, but I really prefer only good butter.