Susie’s Pumpkin Banana Bread

As a missionary for World Impact, our niece Susie spent many years working with Spanish-speaking immigrants, first in 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 come tour the house. They could see the home’s potential for ministry, and decided to move ahead. With lots of prayer and a very 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.

Mary Emily and Lorraine’s Fruit Slices

Judging from the number of cards for icebox cookies in her recipe boxes, I think that my mother and her friends must have really loved them. Actually, they seemed to like just about any kind of cookie, but simple ones like drop cookies were obvious favorites, and ice box cookies were a close second.

Mary Emily Libbey may well have shared my mother’s enthusiasm for a cookie dough that you can stir up, put in the refrigerator and use to bake fresh cookies every morning. I first tasted these cookies at a Christmas open house hosted by Lorraine and Chris many years ago. Lorraine got the recipe from her mother-in-law, Mary Emily Libbey, whom Jerri and I met at one of those holiday extravaganzas when Chris’s mother was visiting.

Mary Emily was celebrating Christmas in Wisconsin, 1,300 miles from her home in Westborough, Massachusetts, where Chris grew up. I wish I had known more about her when we met, as she was an impressive lady. Besides helping Chris’s father make lollipops to sell on his milk and egg route, she started the first food shelf in Westborough when she was seventy years old. Her concern for others manifests itself in Chris and Lorraine’s community service today.

Chris and Lorraine met and married when he was a student in Springfield, Massachusetts. His choice of a bride who was a stranger from a city sixty miles away meant that it took a long time before Mary Emily decided to trust her daughter-in-law with the recipe for Fruit Slices.

Finally, seventeen years after Lorraine had been welcomed into the Libbey family, Mary Emily shared her recipe for Fruit Slices. This year Lorraine gave me the recipe and permission to share it with anyone who likes a delicious icebox cookie. My mother would have loved them, and I think you will too.

Here is Mary Emily’s recipe for a cookie that is perfect for giving at Christmas or enjoying and sharing anytime.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
2 cups candied cherries

PROCEDURE:

Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and allow the butter to soften while you cut the cherries in half and coarsely chop the nuts.

Cream the sugar into the butter. Beat the egg and vanilla into the creamed sugar until you have a smooth batter, then sift the flour by thirds into the batter. Mix in the fruit and nuts after two-thirds of the flour is added. Stir well between additions and make sure that all the flour is incorporated into the batter. The dough will be very stiff. If necessary, you can add a tiny bit of water if the egg was not large enough to provide all the moisture needed.

Tear three or four fourteen-inch pieces of wax paper from a roll and put them near your work surface. Put a quarter of the dough on a sheet of wax paper and press it into an oblong shape. Wrap the dough in the paper and form it into a log by rolling it on the work surface. When the log is about ten inches long, place the log seam side down in a baking pan.

Make the other logs the same way and put the pan in an unheated room or refrigerator for at least three hours. When the logs are hard, they are ready to cut into cookies.

Preheat the oven to 325º and use a serrated knife to cut the logs into thin slices about a sixth of an inch in thickness. Place the slices a half-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake the cookies ten to thirteen minutes until they just barely begin to brown on the edges.

Cool the cookies on wax paper and store them in a sealed container.

NOTES: Lorraine noted that she sometimes uses a combination of a half teaspoon of vanilla and a half teaspoon of another flavoring. Almond would probably make a delicious variant.

Mary Emily’s recipe called for pecan or walnut halves, but I agree with Lorraine that coarsely chopping the nuts makes sense.

Lorraine says that she now substitutes fruitcake mix for the cherries because she likes the different colors in the mixed fruit. I prefer the cherries, both for appearance and flavor.

Chris told me that the cookies I made were thicker than the ones he remembered his mother making and Lorraine said that they were thicker than hers. Both Chris and Lorraine said that the flavor was fine, but that the cookies were not as crisp as Mary Emily’s. If you want cookies like Chris and Lorraine remember, try making the slices an eighth of an inch thick.

Finally, Lorraine’s emailed recipe ended with this comment: “Enjoy – you are the only one I have shared this recipe with. We were married in ’67 and I did not get this recipe until ’84!!!!!”