Illustration: May Moorwood

Coronavirus has brought us many things; heroic key workers who labour tirelessly to keep the world turning, a lockdown which has inspired social media domination by TikTok, and the reign (or the take-over, depending on your perspective) of the banana bread.  

This final consequence of the pandemic is somewhat surprising, but it is certainly divisive. Some view it as the first step on the road towards baking glory and an infamous, although now slightly overused, Paul Hollywood handshake. Others view it as the decline of all civilisation, the cake equivalent of wearing socks and sandals. ‘Distinctly unnecessary and vaguely pretentious’ is a line of criticism coming from some sourdough starter makers, who believe that mixing yeast, flour and water before watching it grow for two days is more scientific. They do have a point though; someone decided to put a particularly pungent fruit in a perfectly good cake. While it does not quite amount to the tragedy of courgette muffins or beetroot brownies, it most certainly is not a moist carrot cake topped with cream cheese icing. 

Furthermore, the addition of banana to the lightness of the sponge could be considered sacrilegious as the baker destroys the effect of the creamed butter and sugar, replacing it with the consolation of a dense, stodgy cake. The finished product withers into the background next to its quarantine mate, the freshly baked and floured sourdough, which shines like a beacon of light. 

So, why on earth is anyone making them? There are three possible reasons which may lead to an answer. Firstly, parents were looking for an activity to occupy their children with, having exhausted the iPad and gotten fed up with home-schooling. Banana bread is not a particularly difficult thing to make and mashing bananas has always been exciting. On top of this, banana bread recipes (or at least those found on BBC Good Food) generally call for considerably less butter and sugar than the likes of a Victoria sponge or a chocolate cake. As a result, the whole process is far cheaper and more realistic during lockdown as less ingredients need to be bought or sought. 

Secondly, there are many people who would normally grab a banana for a smoothie, as breakfast, or as a post exercise snack; possibly these people aren’t our banana bread fiends but you never know. Now that everyone is stuck inside, they have the time for a proper breakfast and might have a piece of toast or a bagel instead. This will reduce their consumption of bananas, resulting in bunches of brown bananas littering kitchens across the world. I personally find a brown banana rather unappealing, but for a banana bread this is perfect; all of the sugars are ripe, and the texture is ready for mashing. This is possibly the most plausible solution, evidenced by the surge in banana-related baking as lockdown and stockpiling began. One could draw similarities between the banana bread movement and viral online trend of dogs jumping over loo rolls – people have too much of something and feel bad for wasting it. 

The third possible explanation is a more romantic one. Could it be possible that people forgot about the humble banana bread and have only recently, as a result of the last two scenarios, remembered it? Banana bread is, in fact, an unsung hero of lockdown. Yes, bananas may permeate your kitchen with the smell of decay as they ripen to perfection; yes, banana bread may be a dense and filling cake, and while it may be intellectually inferior to sourdough,  good banana bread is as comforting as a good cup of tea. It is sweet, it is soft, but above all, it is delicious (particularly with the addition of chocolate chips). The real question is why are people NOT making it, as all of our lives at the minute could be made better by a touch of butter, sugar, and banana.

Katharine Spurrier

Beyond her degree, Katharine enjoys reading both social commentary and culture reviews. This provision of both high and low insights helps to inform the articles she has written for The Oxford Blue which range from pop-culture, to literature, to food, and even dipping into sports on occasion.