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Jeruba's avatar

"Crush bananas with a silver fork." Why?

Asked by Jeruba (48719points) April 30th, 2009

My mother’s recipe for banana bread, hand-written on a page of her old looseleaf cookbook, dates from the 1940s or 1950s. The recipe itself could be a lot older. It begins: “Crush bananas with a silver folk.”

I have never used a silver fork, always a stainless steel one. I have wondered a hundred times why silver is specified. Did ordinary flatware used to contain something that reacted chemically with bananas? Does it still?
—Am I doing any harm to use stainless?
—Was there once some special reason to use silver that no longer applies?

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23 Answers

SeventhSense's avatar

I don’t know but I’d love your recipe for banana bread.

asmonet's avatar

Maybe, that recipe is just a bit on the snooty side.

I have no idea, but it’s a good question, I’ve seen similar things in cookbooks before and wondered the same. :)

Jeruba's avatar

Very simple. I made some last night. This is in my handwriting in my own looseleaf cookbook, copied selectively from my mother’s when I moved out in 1966.

Banana Bread

Large loaf dish—better if quantities slightly increased.

3 ripe bananas
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda
(1/2 cup chopped nuts optional)

Crush bananas with silver fork*. Add eggs, beaten light, sugar, flour sifted with salt & soda, and nut meats. Bake 1 hour in moderately slow oven (325 F). Makes one loaf 5” x 9”.

*It really does say “fork,” not “folk” as in my question.


That’s the recipe. Here’s some explanation.

—Grease (with butter) and lightly flour the loaf pans.
—Recipe is easily doubled.
—Bananas can be a bit overripe; in fact, it’s best if they are a bit soft, as long as they haven’t gone bad.
—Standard bananas used to be a lot smaller. I made two loaves using four large bananas.
—“Soda” means baking soda. Add the baking soda and salt to the flour in the measuring cup and sift them together.
—Her “better if slightly increased” note means that she was, as always, stretching things a little. So she added a little more than the specified amount of flour and just made tiny proportionate adjustments to the other dry ingredients.
—You can’t test for doneness as you do with cake, but when it’s done it will be brown on top, a deeper color than golden brown, and the risen, rounded top will split. Depending on your oven, you may want to check it at 50 minutes.

SeventhSense's avatar

Thank you so much. It’s midnight but I’m cooking some ‘nana bread. :)

Jeruba's avatar

Oh, and—let it stand ten minutes in the loaf pan to cool on a wire rack, and then tip it out and let it cool fully on the wire rack before you wrap it to put away. But you can cut it for a warm, fresh sample almost as soon as the ten minutes are up. Have fun, @SeventhSense!

SeventhSense's avatar

Oh no..denied…No baking soda!

Jeruba's avatar

You should always have some baking soda around. It’s good for many things. That’s the first thing I would turn to if I had a bad burn, like the time I flipped a frying pan full of hot bacon grease onto my hand. Anyway—you can start earlier tomorrow.

SeventhSense's avatar

I have baking powder but not soda. :(

astrocom's avatar

As far as the question goes:
I’d personally be surprised if there were a serious material’s concern that caused her to specify a silver fork. Silver is decently toxic to a variety of things that infect humans and decompose food, but I’m not sure how much this could possibly effect the making of banana bread or how much your mother could have been aware of it.
I noticed the time period you mentioned, relatively few people know this, but before the 50’s and 60’s a different species of banana was widely sold (the Gros Michel banana, which was larger and by some accounts tastier than the current Cavendish banana, but was highly susceptible to Panama Disease).
The only component in good stainless steel that’s dangerous under any circumstance is chromium, but chemically it’s not the right time of chromium (it’s trivalent which isn’t dangerous, and hexavalent only occasionally causes mild rashes unless it’s inhaled).

So…maybe your mom noted that the banana bread kept longer after being mashed by silver? My only guess other than that was that maybe there is some insignificant chemical difference between Cavendish and Gran Michel bananas that might have been relevant when it came to stainless steel vs silver.

Or the note may have had nothing to do with the material of the fork, and everything to do with reminding herself to use a specific fork.

Jeruba's avatar

Very interesting, @astrocom. I am sure the recipe was not original with her, though. It could have been something she found in a magazine or newspaper as a young wife and mother at mid-century, or it could have been a much older family recipe. She would have reproduced it faithfully. I also never saw her do this with the good silver, although we did have a mixture of silverplate and stainless in the everyday drawer.

(By the way, she was college-educated, and her father was a distinguished chemist in the field of milk technology and later became a college professor of chemistry.)

I mentioned the time period because it’s possible that flatware materials have changed as well as banana varieties (I did know about the bananas). This is not the greatest of the questions I wish I’d asked her, but it certainly is one of them.

benjaminlevi's avatar

Because bananas are werewolves.

astrocom's avatar

@Jeruba: It also occurred to me that maybe the stainless steel used in forks has changed, but after a bit of research I couldn’t tell if flatware stainless steel had ever contained lead or nickel.. Although… now that I think about it, when did they first discover lead paint was significantly dangerous? If it had been shortly before the recipe was written, it might be reasonable to assume that common flatware at the time might have contained small quantities of lead. Pure (or mostly pure) lead has been known as a toxin for a long time (we’re talking ancient greece here), but I don’t think humans realized exactly how toxic small quantities of lead could be until more recently.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I posted this on my favorite cooking site. So far only one answer.

“The realy old silverwear might have been made with tin or another metal that reacted with the banana and turned it black?”

I’ll let you know if I get more.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Another response: “versus a wooden fork? wooden forks might be thick and chuncky. mashing with that might be finer? thicker? lumpier? i dont know….”

Nimis's avatar

Sterling silver is a sulfide. And sulfites are often used as a food preservative. I’m not entirely sure of the relationship between sulfides and sulfites, but perhaps using a silver fork will slow down the oxidation of the bananas?

YARNLADY's avatar

I have found at least two recipes online that specify mash with a silver fork, one refers to bananas and the other to tuna fish. I did not find any reason for it, so far.

Bagardbilla's avatar

I would not be surprised if there is a very specific reason for using the silver fork. In many cultures food IS medicine! In the subcontinant for example many foods are prepared with specific instruction, specific spices, at certain times of the year. Eg sauteing meats in tumiric (a blood clenser) kills off any harmful elements in the meat if it was not cleaned properly…
@Jeruba great question.

janbb's avatar

I would have thought that maybe the silver fork was to slow the process of the mashed bananas turning brown. I make banana layer cake from an old recipe of my mother’s but it doesn’t specify a silver fork. The bananas do go brown if you don’t mix the cake soon. However, that theory wouldn’t apply to tuna fish.

Maybe it’s a class thing; only people with silver are entitled to make banana bread or tunafish? :-)

MissAnthrope's avatar

That’s pretty much the Fanny Farmer recipe for banana bread, which gets rave reviews (and requests to make it again) whenever I bake it. The only difference is the Fanny Farmer recipe calls for 1 tsp. salt.

Now, I have made this recipe a billion times and always used whatever fork was available—never silver. The bread comes out fantastic, so I don’t think there is really any reason to specify silver. Also, the oxidation thing would make sense, except for the fact that you mash the bananas and then immediately add your beaten eggs and other ingredients. It all gets mixed up so quickly and poured into the loaf pan, I’ve never once had the mixture turn brown.

RedPowerLady's avatar

“That is so cool you have that older recipe that refers to mashing a banana “with a silver fork”! I collect old cookbooks and several wealthy, influential women wrote them (included detailed housekeeping and recipes, etc., fun to read now, practical for them then)... Using a silver fork (aka, “table fork”) just differentiated from using another kitchen utensil… I have the “Old Fashioned Living” website that I refer to… Another example of a reference to using a “silver knife” to test for doneness in a recipe for Pumpkin Pie CRUST, it states, “Bake @ 425F for 45 – 55 minutes or until a silver knife can be poked in 1” from edge and come out clean.”... They used their silver back then and I think it was just referring to using a “table knife” (verses a utility knife)to test for doneness. Silver knife Reference = “Pumpkin Pie” at:..."

Another one.

Jeruba's avatar

@AlenaD, that rings true, all right. I am remembering now that my mother came to marriage with very little in the way of cooking skills and relied on Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book to teach her what she needed to know. I can still picture it on the shelf in her kitchen—blue-and-white checked binding, if I recall correctly. Most likely she transcribed her favorites into the looseleaf binder, and she either made an error with the salt or adjusted it. I agree that the half teaspoon is plenty; I would not want it twice as salty.

@RedPowerLady, I bet that you have got it on the nose! “Silver fork” = “a regular fork from your silverware (tableware) set” and not some other sort of tool (carving fork, pickle fork, wooden fork, pitchfork). It’s about the type of fork and not its material composition. Probably that would have been understood in 1918 (the date of Fannie Farmer’s book) and even in the 1940s when my parents were married.

Even if those are not the right answers, I declare myself satisfied. Thank you. And thanks, @all, for all the interesting comments. Have a nice warm slice, won’t you?

SeventhSense's avatar

Well thanks to @Jeruba I made the recipe with a little variation which turned out tremendous. I substituted 1/2 cup brown sugar to 1/4 cup regular sugar. This made it very moist. Also at the end while it was cooling I brushed it with a little brown sugar/water mixture which added a nice sweet crunch on the outside. In fact if it drips around the outside between the cake and the pan it’s better still. Just don’t do it while it’s in the oven or it will burn.
One other note- Be aware that the bottom may cook faster than the top and I found 40–45 minutes was enough cook time and maybe could have been pulled sooner. I would put it on the middle to upper rack of oven.

KCKB's avatar

When my husband’s grandmother passed away, the family made sure that everyone got one of her silver forks for the express purpose of making her banana bread recipe. We were told that using a true silver fork to mash the bananas would yield a very light-colored bread (I assume because, as a previous poster noted, the sulfides slow down the banana’s oxidation). Nothing to do with toxicity, everything to do with the aesthetic appearance of the bread, at least in the explanation I was given.

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