When I was a kid, following my mother’s handwritten index card recipes, I really didn’t understand the difference between baking soda, baking powder, cornstarch and cream of tartar. Especially the cream of tartar. It sounded so, well, militaristically nomadic. As if bands of roving, raiding Tartars with blood-drenched scimitars should be featured in their branding. It wasn’t until I was an adult working in restaurants that I learned cream of tartar was the white “wine diamonds” scraped away from the insides of wine barrels after wine had fermented and then drained for drinking. Officially known as potassium bitartrate, cream of tartar is this compound that sets egg whites and whipped cream, and keeps syrups liquid, not crystallized.
Just another ethical reason to support the wine industry. You’re welcome.
If you want to go down the entomological rabbit hole of food discoveries and the philosophical pull between good and evil (I couldn’t help myself), author Aaron Their, a former columnist at the now defunct Lucky Peach, explained how cream of tartar was a moral dilemma to cooks of the Enlightenment and it’s possible connection to “permanent vapors” aka flatulence. Don’t ask me about my descent into the deeps of the internet…it’s a popular avenue for those who procrastinate. Seriously, my stairs need vacuuming.
Even today, when I was looking up the history of banana bread, I was surprised to discover that baking soda and baking powder dropped into Betty Crocker vogue in the 1930s. Those handed down recipe index cards likely were adjusted to accommodate this wonder of technology. So how pure are my grandmother’s German cookies?
Serendipity brought me to discover that Banana Bread has it’s own official holiday – I hadn’t ever celebrated, but those lovely people in Canada seem to know how to do it. If it wasn’t so balmy down here in south Minneapolis, we could enjoy some hot cocoa with the banana bread.
Instead, we’ll be drinking bubbly from Revival made with Gewurtraminer and Chardonnay and fairy popping magic. DISCLAIMER*, my husband once worked Revival’s sister bistro, the now closed, Corner Table.
An overstuffed freezer prompted me to do something with those blackened phallic objects squeezed between frozen peas and chicken stock. I made more banana bread from my grandmother’s recipe. Her little secret to banana bread was adding vinegar to milk.
As the smell of warm banana bread filled the house, I let Google take me in and found some interesting background on why the Midwest, Minnesota in particular, is so fond of this tropical baked good. It didn’t become popular here until the 1930s, but there are recipes in the Caribbean from at least 1849 and likely earlier in the West Indies. Learn more about the use of banana in bread and cake here.
*in Kelley Conway nepotism style, promoting my husband is hugely ok, because nobody lets me speak on TV. And I have red hair and everyone knows we are the evil ones in the movies.