When is a banana ripe and ready? This is one of our running arguments. Mark likes a slightly green skinned, firm banana to eat on his way out to do morning chores. I wait for them to turn black and mushy. Mark calls these rotten, and I call them ready to bake.  
    For me, Christmas time and bananas go hand in hand. As a little kid, Mom would bake banana bread in empty soup cans as gifts for teachers and older neighbors. Sealing up the cylinder loaf of sweet bread in plastic wrap and finishing it off by wrapping it up in tin foil topped with a bow. They looked like presents ready to go under the tree.
    Today, I bake banana bread gifts in mini loaf pans. I haven’t used soup cans in years, but the memory of the circular bread brings a smile to my face of holidays in the kitchen with my mom. Here is her recipe for banana bread and other family favorite banana recipes to use up all those rotten bananas.  
    As a side note. I get a big box of bananas from a neighbor when they are overstocked. I wait for them to ripen and will then freeze three or six peeled, smashed bananas in a bag. Measured and ready to bake with at a later date.

Banana bread by Grandma Becky Dowell
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups flour            
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), soft    
2 eggs                    5 tablespoons sour milk        
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash salt
    Cream sugar, butter and eggs. Dissolve soda in sour milk. Mix dry ingredients. Alternate dry and milk into creamed mixture. Add mashed bananas. Pour into greased and floured bread pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Rhea’s banana cake
Stir together
2 1/2 cups cake flour (or regular flour minus 3 tablespoons)
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Add
2/3 cup shortening (Crisco)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups mashed bananas (three bananas)
Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.
Add
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup unbeaten eggs (2 large eggs)
    Beat two more minutes. Pour into greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes for layers or 45 minutes for 9x13.
Frosting
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
    Cook until a paste. Cool. Beat 2-4 minutes till creamy: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup Crisco and 1/2 cup butter. Continue beating. Slowly add cooked mixture. Add flavoring or color. Continue beating until fluffy. Makes a big batch of frosting. I spread extra frosting on graham crackers to make my own cookie sandwich.

Banana cream cheesecake bars
3 cups Nilla Wafer crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 pint heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 packages instant banana cream pudding
Extra whipped cream and sliced bananas for garnish
    Crush box Nilla Wafers. Mix with melted butter. Press in bottom of 8-by-8 pan lined with parchment paper. In a chilled bowl, beat whipped cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Set aside. In a different bowl, beat three packages of cream cheese until smooth. Add two packages of instant pudding. Mix well. Fold in whipped cream. Scoop over wafers and evenly spread. Refrigerate eight hours or overnight. Lift out of pan by paper. Cut into nine squares. Garnish with dollop of whipped cream and slice of banana. Make sure to dip banana slices in lemon juice to prevent from browning.

Blueberry banana bread
2 cups four    
6 tablespoons butter, hard    
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 egg                
1/2 teaspoon salt            1/2 cup quick cooking oats    
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mashed bananas     
1 cup fresh/frozen blueberries
    Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in butter until coarse crumbs. Stir in walnuts. In small bowl, mix milk, vanilla and egg until blended. Stir in bananas and blueberries. Add to dry mixture. Stir until just moist. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. I double this recipe so I can make two loaves. Freezes great.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net