The radio is playing one of the latest Dua Lipa songs, the smell of banana fills the kitchen, and you can feel a nice warmth from the heated oven. The kitchen is messy. Lots of stuff is lying around: A box of sugar, banana peel, eggshells, flour leftovers, and a bag of nuts. This is the usual scenery just after I put a banana bread dough into the oven. During the lockdown months, banana bread has evolved into my Covid comfort food. But let’s start at the beginning – where my love for banana bread began.
Photos, videos, recipes: When I am thinking about COVID-19 and lockdown, there is one object that comes into my mind immediately: Banana bread. Banana bread was a huge hype during the first lockdown in the beginning of 2020. Scrolling through the Instagram feed or watching Instagram stories, every second person showed themselves baking banana bread, going grocery shopping for banana bread, or presenting the finished banana bread.
And this is not only my personal perception: Data from BBC prove that between the 23rd of March and the 30th of April 2020, banana bread was the most searched recipe on their website (Pearson-Jones, 2020). Also Google data, as captured below, show that the search term “banana bread” had a peak in April 2020.
Thinking about this trend and people showcasing their banana breads made me realize two things: On the one hand, seeing people baking, developing new skills and habits, was pressuring. It made me feel as if I needed to be more productive. I felt bad when I was spending a day in bed just watching Netflix: I had the feeling that I have to do something meaningful and that I have to make the best of this time and could not just be unproductive and sad in these hard times. On the other hand, I could not help myself: Influenced by all these banana breads I also wanted to try it. However, this was not as easy as I expected it to be. This is because during lockdown many people started baking and panic-buying and therefore, basic ingredients as flour, yeast, and sugar were constantly out of stock. Not only in my small hometown in Germany but also in other regions like Washington D.C. (Heil, 2020).
The Baking Process – Appealing to all Senses
When I finally got all the ingredients, I carefully set them up: butter, sugar, bananas, eggs, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nuts. It was nice to feel the ingredients, each unique in its very own way, to feel the fragility and coldness of the eggs, feeling the knife while cutting the butter – soft and hard at the same time. Mixing the ingredients – sometimes using my bare hands instead of the mixing rod, to really feel the dough. All this gave me a warm feeling and provided materiality. Materiality that has been lost in pandemic and lockdown times, in which almost every activity was reduced to its digital substitute: working from home via Google Meet, digital lectures, and tutorials via Zoom, and meetings with friends through the screen.
It was satisfying to see how several different ingredients became one coherent dough. After I put the cake into the baking pan, I usually start decorating it with toppings: Nuts and banana slices – a combination of what I have seen on social media and what I personally find aesthetic. This always evokes positive feelings as creative tasks – like decorating banana bread – can make people feel happier (Brasted, 2021).
However, the best part of the baking process is to put the bread into the oven. I enjoy seeing how the banana bread is baking, is getting darker, and gets its final appearance. The fruity banana smell strikes me every time. The scent rises to all rooms and makes me crave the banana bread. The finished banana bread tastes sweet and is very soft. The baked dough in my hand feels sticky, rough, and fragile at the same time.
Baking in Crisis: It is Easing the Mind
For me, baking banana bread has become a ritual during the lockdown. Even though I sometimes did bake before, I often did not take the time to do it. Through COVID-19, quarantine, lockdown, and the resulting free time I slowly started to develop this new habit. And, as mentioned before, I was by far not the only person that started baking in lockdown. This is because baking has several positive impacts on people’s psychological well-being (Easterbrook-Smith, 2020, p. 2) in these times of restrictions, isolation from friends and family, and concerns about the future. While researching for this collection, I found several articles that perfectly describe my experiences of baking during Covid and the way it influenced me positively:
Firstly, baking distracts from the uncertainties of the world. While baking one is keeping the hands and the mind occupied. You completely immerse in the baking process and it gives a feeling of control (Brasted, 2021). There is a list of ingredients and a recipe and the only thing one needs to care about is mixing the ingredients:
“There’s repetition and a quietness about reading and focusing on a recipe and putting together a dish while you use your senses, smelling the aromas of spices coming together. When there’s a lack of control and knowing what’s going to happen in the world, that goes a long way to be able to say: ‘I’m reading something, and in 30 minutes, I’m going to create and end up with X’. And you do – and that feels wonderfully satisfying“.Culinary-art therapist Julie Ohana (Brasted, 2011)
Secondly, the 60 minutes one is waiting for the banana bread to be finished are rare moments of anticipation in lockdown times, where everything seems to be on hold and time stands still. Thirdly, it evokes positive feelings as the finished baking project – in my case the banana bread – is proof that one has accomplished something – one has made, created something. And eventually, this makes people happy (Brasted, 2021).
Lastly, baking can be used to spend free time usefully and it gives structure to the day (Easterbrook-Smith, 2020, p. 3). Overall, the main reasons people started baking in lockdown are that they use it as a pastime for leisure time, as a distraction, an activity for feeling comfort, a way of sharing skills and accomplishments on social media (Easterbrook-Smith, 2020).
However, it is not only the baking process but also eating itself that has major impacts on people’s well-being. By consuming certain types of food – also called “comfort food” – “not only physical but also emotional needs” are satiated (Troisi and Gabriel, 2011, p. 747). In times of Covid, food can then serve as a safe haven.
“The current research provides another example of a metaphor come to life: comfort food providing actual psychological comfort“.(Troisi and Gabriel, 2011, p. 751)
The History of Banana Bread
So, when it is baking in general, that provokes positive feelings, why is it that especially banana bread has seen such hype during the first lockdown? Is banana bread perhaps a recipe that has been created only recently?
According to Henesey (2020), banana bread exists at least for a century and has its origin in yet another crisis: The Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s. During the crisis, US-Americans were affected by food scarcity, and cheap food gained popularity. So-called quick breads – such as banana bread – that do not need yeast and are therefore quickly ready-to-eat were in demand. Another influencing aspect in the advancement of banana bread was the introduction of baking soda. Moreover, some say, banana bread recipes were the creation of housewives that wanted to use overripe bananas instead of throwing them away. One of the first printed banana bread recipes was published three years after the Great Depression, in 1933, in the cookbook “Balanced Recipes” (Henesey, 2020).
Since then, banana bread has gained popularity so that people in the United States even celebrate the National Banana Bread Day annually on the 23rd of Februrary (Sandeep, 2020).
Why Banana Bread?
Back to the question of why it is banana bread that has been so popular in the pandemic: One explanation (Tepper Paley, 2020) is that the banana bread recipe is very easy to follow. There aren’t any special skills or special ingredients needed – compared to baking a sophisticated cake. And almost nothing can go wrong. Moreover, as mentioned before, banana bread’s main ingredients are overripe bananas. So, banana bread is always a good idea when there are bananas left, so it is a welcomed solution for spontaneous baking sessions (Tepper Paley, 2020).
However, the social media factor does not play an unimportant role in the rise of banana bread to the pandemics trend food (Easterbrook-Smith, 2020). When I saw all the people baking banana bread, I felt influenced and I also started baking banana bread. Probably other people felt the same way before – and have after I posted my banana bread. And like this, the cycle continued.
Banana Bread – a Conclusion
For me, banana bread is the soul and comfort food of 2020. Influenced by friends, I started to bake banana bread. I quickly realized why baking was a popular activity to engage in: It evokes positive and happy feelings, it is stress relief – and at the end, you feel like you have accomplished something. Due to the easy-to-follow recipe of banana bread, I could be sure that the bread turns out the way I wanted to – without any disappointment. And of course, eventually, I could showcase my banana bread on Instagram, proving that I did something other than watching Netflix.
AJ+. (2020, May 31). Why People Bake In A Crisis [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dOeT67USVs
Brasted, C. (2021, February 2). During lockdown, so many people have run to their kitchens to bake and create. Why does cooking so perfectly fill a hole in our lives?. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210128-why-cooking-and-baking-fills-a-void
Easterbrook-Smith, G. (2020). By Bread Alone: Baking as Leisure, Performance, Sustenance, During the COVID-19 Crisis. Leisure Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490400.2020.1773980
Google Trends. (2021, February 18). Banana Bread. https://trends.google.de/trends/explore?date=2019-01-18%202021-02-18&q=banana%20bread
Heil, E. (2020, March 25). People are baking bread like crazy, and now we’re running out of flour and yeast. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2020/03/24/people-are-baking-bread-like-crazy-and-now-were-running-out-of-flour-and-yeast/
Henesey, D. (2020, April 21). Lockdown loaf: The history of banana bread. Seconds Food History. https://www.secondshistory.com/home/history-of-banana-bread
Pearson-Jones, B. (2020, May 8). Banana bread is the most searched for recipe on the BBC Good Food’s website with brownies, scones and pancakes also featuring in the top 10 lockdown bakes. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-8300967/Banana-bread-tops-list-searched-recipes-lockdown.html
Sandeep. (2020, February 23). National Banana Bread Day – February 23, 2020. Happy Days 365. https://happydays365.org/banana-bread-day/national-banana-bread-day-february-23/#/?playlistId=0&videoId=0
Tepper Paley, R. (2020, April 2). Why Banana Bread Is the Official Comfort Food of the Coronavirus Quarantine. Kitchn. https://www.thekitchn.com/banana-bread-official-comfort-food-coronavirus-23021239
Troisi, J. D., & Gabriel, S. (2011). Chicken Soup Really Is Good for the Soul: “Comfort Food” Fulfills the Need to Belong. Psychological Science, 22(6), 747–753. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797611407931