The Mysterious Banana Breads of San Blas

Starting Over in Vallarta

Jennifer Mann

Last week, it was the mystery of the Pie Ladies of Yelapa – why are so many as-American-as- apple-pie pies – pumpkin, banana cream, Key lime, and more – being hawked in an isolated Bay of Banderas village?

 

While speculation by an American who lived there in the late 1970s as a kid, led to the notion that another American, perhaps sometime in the mid-1970s or earlier, taught at least one local how to make American-style pies, the mystery remains.

 

Perhaps we’ll have better luck up in San Blas, a coastal village about 160 kilometers north of Puerto Vallarta, past the northern tip of the bay, on up the road a good bit.

The weird popularity of banana bread in San Blas was mentioned to me by my friend, Tom, who, when he was a kid, along with little brother Mat, were corralled by their parents into an off-white VW camper with a pop-up top for an awesome adventure.

 

It was 1969, and a new portion of the Pan American Highway had been completed, and, being full of wanderlust, the couple thought it the perfect excuse to wander off on an adventure.

That first year, when Tom was nine, the family traversed through Mexico and then to Central America, visiting all the countries in that neck of the world except what is now Belize, then British Honduras, and not on the Pan American Highway. Tom says he remembers it was illegal in Guatemala for women to wear pants and that JFK was beloved, and there was even a local brand of cigarettes called Kennedy…

 

After their first foray south of the border, Tom’s family, who lived in Monterrey, California, struck out for the border every winter, the off-season for the family’s charter and commercial fishing business.

 

Soon, it was San Blas to whence they returned each winter, spending their days fishing, swimming, snorkeling, learning Español, and living among the kind and gentle and good locals.

 

Today, go to San Blas, and it’s impossible to miss banana bread. Perhaps the most prominent among the purveyors of banana bread being Pan de Platano de Juan Bananas, which beginning in 1973, started making all sorts of banana bread today studded with nuts, cranberries, coconut, even chocolate!

But where did Juan get his recipe for banana bread?

I’ll let Tom posit in his own words.

“I remember that my mom had given a loaf of banana bread to Antonio, the fishing guide we hired every year, to take home. We as a family were once guests at his home for dinner, and it would have been likely that June may have brought some then as well. His wife asked for the

recipe, and June was happy to share it. This must have been 1972.”

“That evening at Antonio’s house made a profound impression on me. Their home was very modest with packed dirt floors and only two rooms. They shared a courtyard kitchen with three other households. In a prominent location in their main room, under a shrine to St. Guadalupe and some family photos, was a brand-new portable television. It had been given to Antonio by a gringo customer as a gift. They were very proud of the television, even though

they never watched it. They couldn’t because they did not have electricity…”

“I find the whole banana bread thing puzzling and fascinating. Perhaps June did unknowingly start something in San Blas or maybe banana bread, or pan de platano was already popular in the 1960s, and I was too young to notice such things…”

But it all fits together rather nicely. One year after Tom’s mom started sharing the recipe around town, an enterprising Mexican entrepreneur named Juan started putting banana bread on the map to San Blas.