At the end of a long, dusty, country road, there was a house that could have inspired Andrew Wyeth’s painterly strokes. It belonged to Lawrence and Sedonia Wagner, hearty Czech folks who farmed and reared a full flock of kids, then spoiled their many grandkids with jokes, kolaches, firm hugs, and kisses. They were my grandparents, and I unfortunately only knew them in bits and pieces, moments stolen from the year, typically in the summertime. Otherwise, I remained in Pennsylvania, while their lives continued in South Dakota.
Since I was on the very young end of their offspring’s offspring, our generational gap only widened with the miles between us. Though we may not have always had a lot to discuss, my way to relate to my grandparents was through their home and through their table. I remember the warmth of the sun flickering through the farm trees, the occasional appearance of Maynard, the border collie who preferred his independent adventures, and the minuscule purrs of farm kittens.
Their barn was red, as a barn should be, and the old farmhouse creaked with the many footsteps that had traced over its bones. I attribute my love of architecture to that house, my passion for nostalgia for that house, and my fondness for the stories that emerged from those walls.
My grandparents were laid to rest not far from that old farmhouse, in a treeless part of town, where the graves contrast the bright green grass of a gently rolling hillside. I mourned their departures and celebrated their legacies, then, from miles and miles away, I mourned the loss of the farmhouse.
The house was left to family members who took it for granted. They had seen the red barn beams day in and day out, and for them, the magic may never have existed. They didn’t know how miles and miles away, I bit back the rage and swallowed my sadness.
How could they not preserve the walls where my grandparents’ spirits would surely return? How could they not appreciate the wallpaper Sedonia had adhered herself, surely while some homegrown feast simmered in the kitchen? How could they not know that the dusty road, the steep winding steps, the wooden shelves, and toy chest were words from the language I spoke with my grandparents?
I have a cousin who knew those magical words, and for that, we share a connection that bridges the minimal time we have spent together. It’s no coincidence that we were both drawn to cameras, to documenting and preserving moments, to traveling far and wide to see even longer, dustier roads and flickers of light. She captured the red barn recently, and despite the distance, despite the masked degradation, I felt I was there, just as she was feeling Sedonia’s spirit.
It is no coincidence that my work is a constant pursuit to preserve what is good and true from those who came before us. It’s why I fell for a farmer/beekeeper who works to preserve the traditions encapsulated in seeds and combs. It’s why I see recipes as transcriptions of histories and mementos of times spent together. It’s why ingredients are so important.
This Vegan Nocciolata Chocolate Hazelnut Spread is the key ingredient in this decadent banana bread, and it represents the history of another family, a history that has been better preserved than my own. It all began 90 years ago with two brothers, Mario and Paolo Rigoni. Devoted to the natural beauty of their birthplace, Mario and Paolo started producing honey from the fragrant flowers found in the pristine meadows of Asiago, Italy (I’m ready to visit, just say the word!).
Building on the success of their honey, they expanded their production to fruit spreads and jams, but they always chose to stick to natural ingredients. Their values passed from generation to generation, and Nocciolata is Rigoni’s “newest” product, born from another old family recipe and made from 100% organic goodness.
AND, if you live in Pittsburgh, like me, this chocolate goodness is now available in Whole Foods (but soon to be on Amazon for all you non-PGH’ers), which means, I’ll probably see you in the jam section real soon.
Here’s to preserving family traditions!
p.s: This post is sponsored by Rigoni di Asiago, but all opinions and Niccolata-covered spoons are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support With The Grains, but more importantly, thanks for supporting the brands that prioritize the environment. You can follow them on social media (F / I / P / T) for more organic product updates and even more recipe ideas (though simply licking the spoon is always a good option).
Whole Grain Chocolate-Hazelnut Swirl Banana Bread
- 4 cups organic sprouted whole wheat flour recommended: One Degree Organics
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 4 medium-sized overripe bananas
- 1 1/4 cups organic raw cane sugar
- 1/2 cup local honey
- 2/3 cup melted coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 4 organic/cage-free eggs
- 1 cup organic/local buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
- 1 1/2 cups Nocciolata Dairy Free
- 1/2-1 cup dark chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans and set aside.
- Bake the hazelnuts for 8-10 minutes until they begin to darken and give off a nutty aroma.
- Once the hazelnuts have cooled you can remove the skins by rolling handfuls of the nuts around in your bare hands or in a clean kitchen towel. Once enough of the shells are removed (some will remain), set the hazelnuts aside.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl and whisk together.
- If your bananas are ripe enough, beat them in the bowl of a stand mixer until they resemble a puree. If they are on the riper side, use a bowl and the back of a wooden spoon to mash them first.
- Add the sugar, honey, oil, and vanilla to the banana puree, and beat on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until fully blended.
- With the mixer on a low speed, add the eggs one at a time to the banana mixture. Continue to mix until the eggs are fully incorporated.
- Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, starting and stopping with the flour. Scrape down the bowl after each addition.
- Fold in 1 cup of hazelnuts.
- Fill one prepared pan halfway with the batter. Dollop in about 1/2 cup of Nocciolata* and gently swirl into the batter mixture using a butter knife or a small spatula. Be careful not to over-mix the two.
- *Note: The Nocciolata will need to be spreadable to really swirl it into the batter. If it's too thick, heat it by placing the jar in a pot of water (with the water level about 1/4 way up the jar) over medium-low heat, watching it, and stirring it until it's the right consistency.
- Cover the Nocciolata swirled batter with a second layer of batter, fill until the loaf pan is about 3/4 full. Swirl another 1/4 cup of Nocciolata over the top layer.
- Repeat with the second loaf pan.
- Top both loaves with remaining chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
- Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for another 30 minutes.
- Lower the temperature to 325°F, rotate the pans again, and bake for 20-30 additional minutes. The loaves should turn a deep golden brown and begin to crack at the top. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
- Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove the bread loaves from pans and invert onto the rack to cool completely before slicing.