Bonnie Massey is a one-woman, oven-mitted, bread-baking welcome wagon.
At East Ridge at Cutler Bay, Massey greets every new resident moving into the retirement community with a homemade baked goodie — usually her famous banana nut bread. She’s also known to dole out jars of guava jelly, and her custard is a sure pick-me-up when illness strikes.
Massey is 92, and many of her recipes have been in the family for more than seven decades.
Her banana nut bread recipe was her mother-in-law’s. As a young married woman, Massey baked it for church bazaars and family gatherings. Now she typically bakes two loaves at a time, keeps one and gives the other away. In a pinch, a well-wrapped loaf can keep in the freezer for days. But, she quickly admonishes, it should be defrosted only in the refrigerator.
“It’s so moist and light because it uses less flour and more oil than others,” she explains.
Her daughter, Jan Orgaz, calls the bread “Nana’s Bananas.” She grew up with its scent saturating the kitchen. When Orgaz finds out someone is moving into the community, she tells them they likely will open the door to a neighbor bearing the gift of banana bread.
“I always tell them ‘You’re going to get a visit from a neighbor bringing banana bread,’ because I know she’ll be there no matter what, “ Orgaz jokes. “I think it’s become a tradition.”
Massey is something of a culinary celebrity in the community. Massey has come home to find bags of overripe bananas on her doorstep. Neighbors also leave sugar packets to supplement her pantry. And while Massey was doing an interview recently, her daughter arrived with a box of guava, “donated” for her jelly-making.
“She bakes for everybody, and she’s not slowing down,” says Janet Parkerson, who met Massey when she and her husband moved to East Ridge nine years ago.
Massey, mother of three, grandmother of six and great-grandmother to nine, doesn’t simply drop off the banana bread and scoot on out. “She actually visits,” Parkerson says. “She talks to you. It’s such a nice gesture when you’re moving to a new place.”
Jeff Haller, a self-proclaimed fan, remembers meeting Massey when he and his partner moved to East Ridge in December 2014. He was pleasantly surprised when a “regal-looking woman” showed up at his doorstep with a plastic-wrapped loaf. “It’s really comforting to get that bread,” he says with a chuckle. “She makes you feel so welcomed.”
Massey didn’t start baking until she married her late husband John, but her mother often made banana fritters and applesauce cake for the boarders she took in. On occasion, if her mother was running late at her job at Burdine’s, Massey was asked to start dinner. “The only thing I knew to make was corned beef hash,” she recalls.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. At 16, after she noticed all the guava falling from a backyard fruit tree, a neighbor taught her how to turn that bounty into something sweet.
She’s been making jelly and jam ever since, expanding her repertoire to include strawberry and blackberry. “I hate seeing things going to waste,” she explains.
She keeps rows of jelly jars in her kitchen cupboard, ready to be given away at a moment’s notice.
Her Christmas Crunchies are a family and friend cookie favorite too — and not just for Christmas. She makes them for her grandchildren — and neighbors — at any time of the year.
“Bonnie, to me, is the most generous, caring and loving person who loves to share what she does,” her friend Parkerson says.
Baking is not the only pastime that keeps Massey busy. In the back room of her apartment, Massey spends hours at her sewing machine, quilting. And earlier this year, inspired by a dream, she wrote a book for her great-grandchildren. One of her granddaughters, Laura Jensen, a schoolteacher and mother of two, helped her get it printed.
In “I’m A Little Like…” Jensen draws on the teachings she tried to impart to her children. The last page may best summarize this great-grandmother’s philosophy of life and baking: “We may look different, but in many ways are a little bit alike.”
1 cup ripe mashed banana (about 2 large or 3 medium)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Blend together bananas, eggs, sugar and oil. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix only until blended. Bake 1 hour at 325 degrees in small loaf pans.