Breads,  Breakfast,  Cakes

Muriel Brody’s Wheat Germ Banana Bread

My mom died in August, just a month shy of turning 102. She was a success at more than just longevity. She became an art teacher rather than a journalist because her father thought it was a safer profession for women in the 1930s. And even though she’d never picked up a paintbrush until she entered Moore College of Art, her watercolors were as masterful as if she’d been born with the divine gift.

She gave up teaching to serve as a Naval officer’s wife at a time when “entertaining” was serious business. Throwing dinner parties and organizing wives’ club luncheons were part of the job, and she had the poise and smarts to pull it all off.

Her hobby, though, was worrying. She’d worry when my dad was stationed at a secret location during WWII. She’d worry when he flew jets in a test pilot squadron (something she’d never signed on for when she’d married a Jewish doctor). She’d worry about taking care of her three youngsters while my dad was away on sea duty for two years. She lovingly worried about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren until the very end.

Peel away the worry and you’d find confidence, competence and creativity. She applied her art training everywhere, especially in the kitchen. Family meals were at the heart of our home, and each plate was a still life of pleasing colors and composition.

As a modern ’50s homemaker, she embraced simplicity and efficiency. If she could make a recipe easier, all the better. Her Wheat Germ Banana Bread features a clever shortcut. It is also my favorite thing she baked.

What follows is my most personal recipephany. It is a story of plagiarism, remorse, romance, forgiveness, and inspiration. I present it in loving memory of my mom.

My mom’s banana bread was over-the-top moist and sweet from overripe bananas, and rich with the nutty taste of toasted wheat germ. A thick slice delighted me as much as a fudgy brownie. I loved it slathered with butter, and each bite just melted away.

Here was wheat-germ wholesomeness before it was fashionable. And—get this—Mom mixed it in her Waring blender. No creaming butter and sugar. No beating eggs. Just whir and stir. Brilliant.

That’s why I stole the recipe.

In the ’80s I dabbled in cooking contests. I pursued ones that were oddball or badly publicized so I’d have a chance. “Enter contests you can win,” is one of my rules. It makes me a real buzzkill when it comes to lotteries.

A tiny ad for a Weetabix contest caught my eye. Weetabix—those fragile biscuits of compressed whole-wheat flakes—turn mushy at even the thought of milk. I just needed to work their wheaty mushiness into a recipe.

So, without asking, I entered my mom’s banana bread with Weetabix substituted for the wheat germ. It lacked the nutty taste, but it worked.

I made it to a preliminary cook-off hosted by popular Boston TV personality Dave Maynard at the Natick Mall. My husband, 2-year-old daughter, parents and brother and sister-in-law came to cheer me on.

At the cook-off, I took complete credit for my mom’s recipe right in front of her. I later realized how tacky this was and apologized, but she waved it off. She was happy for me. My successes were hers, too. But to this day I still feel guilty.

The banana bread won. A judge in crisp chef’s attire approached me with congratulations. Then he said, “I like to bake with wheat germ. Do you think this would work if I used wheat germ instead of the Weetabix?” I struggled to remain composed and then replied yes, I thought it would work very well.

They slated me to compete against winners from other mall competitions at the Grand Cook-off the following month. I was pregnant with my son, and a complication confined me to bed rest. I couldn’t get off the couch let alone make it to the final contest.

Then my husband, with chivalry worthy of Jane Austen’s Mr. Knightley, announced he’d go in my place. On the stark white apron he would wear, he printed in bold letters with a red Sharpie, “I’m doing this for her.”

And he did. This was a selfless act of love. Give him a grill, a griddle, a pot or a pasta machine and he’s at home. But he has always left the oven to me. So he geared up, ventured into terra incognita, and baked banana bread. He nailed it. And he charmed the judges.

In the end, we came in third. The recipe that won first prize called for a can of Campbell’s bean and bacon soup. My mom shook her head every time she recalled it. I never again baked anything with Weetabix.

My love for her banana bread indirectly led her to create her prize-winning Olympic Seoul Chicken. My contest success had stirred her competitive juices. If her daughter could win with one of her recipes, why couldn’t she? Thirty years later, her chicken recipe is more popular than ever, popping up on thousands of websites and blogs. Only seldom, though, is her name attached.

To her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she was “Nanny.” When my family gathered for her funeral, I served this banana bread. My son nicknamed it “BaNanny Bread.” I could hear my mom’s laugh.

I hope you enjoy success with this prize-winner. Just please give my mom credit when you share it. Then I won’t feel so guilty.

Muriel Brody’s Wheat Germ Banana Bread

Mix in a blender:

  • 1/3 cup shortening, soft (preferably butter or margarine)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 large or 4 medium bananas, ripe (about 1 ½ cups mashed)*
  • ¼ cup sour cream**

*We peel and freeze ripe bananas we get from the marked-down produce rack, then defrost them in the microwave. The riper the better for flavor.

**May substitute yogurt, sour milk, or milk with 1 teaspoon white vinegar added.

Whisk together in a large bowl:

  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup wheat germ

Pour banana mixture into the dry ingredients and stir till well blended, but do not beat. Pour into a greased 9” x 5” loaf pan. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes or until it tests done and is nicely brown. The interior should register between 200° and 205° on an instant-read thermometer. Bread will be very moist.

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  • Robin Henschel

    Sorry about your mom, Diane.

    we make “Diane’s Mother’s Chicken all the time. A family favorite too.

    My mom was never a fan of cooked banana and I’m afraid I have inherited her taste in that regard but sweet and sour chicken is another thing altogether.

    • Diane Brody

      Thank you, Robin! I remember you made it even before you knew it was my mom’s recipe.

      Please let me know what you’re cooking these days. Hope everyone’s doing well. I’m enjoying following Eli’s success on Facebook.


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