My sister Virginia Allain shared a post I’d written on her blog several years ago, From Kansas to India and Back. It’s from a time when my travels took me further afield than day trips around Kentucky and I enjoyed reading it again. I hope you’ll follow the link to her blog, Discovering Mom — I think you’ll enjoy it. You’ll also be able to see the photos she posted with this piece.
April 11, 2014
The recipe has gone around the world with me. As I pulled it out today to make my “Texas” banana bread, I took a minute to read the notes I’d jotted down over the years. It looks like I first made it in 1991 when I was newly married and living in Ahmedabad, India. Another note shows that I made it for my daughter’s 4th birthday party in July of 1994, still in Ahmedabad. In 2008 I’m back in Kansas, still using this recipe. At some point, my daughter started adding her notes to the recipe as she began baking. She was the first to add a lemon glaze to the bread. I see that I substituted 1 cup of dahi or curds (plain yogurt) for some of the bananas when I was short on bananas one time.
The recipe is from a cookbook my aunt gave me for Christmas back in 1978, when I was living in Wichita, Kansas, and she was a new Texan. She was working as a typesetter in Austin and The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cooking (Morton Gill Clark, 1970) is one of the books she worked on. When I moved to India to marry, it was one of the few books I packed to take with me. It was my go-to book when I was homesick for American food.
Tonight I spent some time flipping through the pages of the book and realize that it’s a veritable journal of that part of my life. I’ve never been able to keep a real journal for more than a few days at a time (despite good intentions!), so it’s a delight to see that I WAS actually keeping a journal of sorts during those years.
The first note in the book dates to the time before I moved to India, when I was single and living in Wichita, Kansas: Jalapeno Buttermilk Cornbread (served with country spareribs) in Wichita before I moved to India. The note is brief, but I vividly recall serving this meal to my parents and my brother in my apartment along the Arkansas River in Wichita. Dad was a big fan of the jalapenos, but Mom and Owen would have preferred plain cornbread. My parents are both gone now and my brother is in a nursing home, partially paralyzed from a stroke, so these are bittersweet memories of a happier time.
My first years in India show that I must have really been missing American breads and pies! I made Flannel Cakes, Sour Milk Cornbread, Amarillo Risen Biscuits (for Easter), and Butter Biscuits. Pies just weren’t something you found in India, so the only way to get my fix was to make them myself and, boy, did I! Apple Cream Pie, Osgood Pie, Pumpkin Custard Pie (from fresh pumpkins from the market), Oatmeal Pie, Fried Pies (that page is really grease-spattered!), Old-fashioned Egg Pie, Lemon Chess Pie (I substituted rava, which is coarsely ground rice, for cornmeal), Lemon Meringue Pie, Buttermilk Pie, and Banana Cream Pie. These would have been served with chai in the afternoon or for dessert after an evening meal.
The notes show that I managed to celebrate American holidays in a traditional way during my years in India. For my first Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I made Baked Hen with Dressing, Buttermilk Pralines, and Date-Nut Roll, which I wrote was “like Uncle Glenn’s recipe.” I also found recipes that reminded me of my Mom’s cooking when I was growing up, such as Mrs. Spitzenberger’s Apple Oatmeal Strudel, which I noted was similar to my Mom’s apple crisp. Another recipe was for Cinnamon Puffs, “like Mom’s cake doughnuts she used to make on the farm.” I remember teaching my Indian cook how to make egg noodles, but my daughter liked to be the one to cut the dough into noodles, just as I did when I was her age.
The banana bread is out of the oven, cooling on the kitchen counter. And I make another entry in my well-worn recipe book/journal before I return it to the bookshelf. In the fall, the cookbook will be packed away to make the journey across the country with me when I move to Kentucky to start a new stage in my life. I’m enjoying the adventure!