Last night I baked the last of the drop cookies offered in Sharon Tyler Herbst’s The Joy of Cookies. At some point in 2012, and without fanfare, I also prepared the last of the bar cookies. What lies ahead? The remainder of three other sections in which I have dipped my toe, but not thoroughly explored: “Hand-formed, pressed and refrigerated,” “chocolate and chocolate chip,” and “holiday cookies.” No doubt bar and drop cookies lurk here and there in those three sections, however I’ve a sinking feeling that most of what lies ahead will tend toward fussiness.
These were not fussy. A purée of bananas mixed with butter, vanilla, sugar and eggs. Flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Diced crystallized ginger and a handful of raisins. In Ms. Herbst’s words they are “pillowy soft cookies” with a bit of “pizzazz.” And, as one who likes the occasional banana but dislikes banana-flavored things? They are very good. The spices, and that ginger — wow! — make them some kind of special.
Of course, I ignored her instruction to use very ripe bananas. She insists that there is no banana flavor when baking with greenish bananas. Confession: I like the occasional banana, but only if it’s slightly green with no brown spots at all, and then it must be sliced on the diagonal. I am very picky about this fruit that grows on really tall stems of an herbaceous plant which is not a tree, and my inner locavore feels a little guilty about enjoying anything that is grown only in the humid tropics of equatorial regions, which, last I checked, is not within 100 miles of where I’m living. Then there’s the whole fair trade issue. Sigh. Bananas are such a rare and guilty pleasure for me. I needed two for this recipe and bought three, and will probably give Kate the third as I’m quite sure it went from the narrow window in which I’d find it edible to too-ripe-for-me! in the middle of the night.
So. Why did Ms. Herbst tack West Indies onto the name of these cookies? The little online research I did this morning tells me that bananas have been enjoyed in the Malaysian part of the world for millennia. They are probably one of the oldest cultivated plants, if not the oldest, and they’ve traveled over the centuries until they ring the globe, grown in every humid, tropical, equatorial place possible. Ms. Herbst, along with Spanish tradition, credits Friar Tomás de Berlanga with planting the first banana plant (she says tree — oops!) in the West Indies in 1516, where they have flourished ever since. She doesn’t credit the West Indies with this recipe, but perhaps it’s because they are the most proximate source of bananas for the US, where we seem to like to bake cookies.
Finally, during this second year of working our way through this cookie cookbook, its binding cracked. Spectacularly, from stem to stern. It now has a fault line dividing what I’ve finished from what I’ve yet to accomplish. Soldiering on with this frivolous and happy task in 2013! Happy New Year!