View from Lodi, CA: What To Do About Bananas
May 30, 2003, 05:00 AM
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Over the Memorial Day weekend, like many Americans, I took a long car trip.

Like most savvy road warriors, I packed my own lunch: two Dagwood-style sandwiches, a large bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, two king-size boxes of Mike and Ikes, two quarts of freshly squeezed lemonade and two impossibly large wedges of freshly baked chocolate cake.

Oh, yes. I also took along the obligatory two bananas.

As usual, the bananas were the first things that I ate. Because they taste so foul, I'm always anxious to get them out of the way so I can turn my attention to the roast beef sub and the chips.

Here is where it is with bananas: I don't care how much potassium they have or how few calories, they taste like wallpaper paste.

Since I've returned from my three-day journey, I've spent a good amount of time thinking about bananas and the people who eat them. And I have concluded that nobody likes bananas.

I've gotten aggressive about challenging banana eaters. "You're not really enjoying that, are you?" I'll ask.

At first my subjects are put off. But then, grudgingly and after continued vigorous questioning, they wilt. Most admit that eating a plain old store-bought banana is more habit than pleasure.

If you think I am being too hard on bananas, please take note that the recipes you most enjoy use a considerably altered form of the fruit.

Take banana bread, for example. The first thing any recipe will tell you to do is to look for over-ripe bananas—try to find those rotten ones with the big black spots so you can maximize the flavor of your bread.

Or you probably love Bananas Foster, the legendary New Orleans dessert served at the Commander's Palace.

Take a half a dozen bananas, a big glob of butter, some brown sugar, douse that mixture with a generous helping of brandy and an equally generous amount of banana liquor, and set off a bon fire.

When the flames die out, top it off with a massive serving of vanilla ice cream. By the time you've have done all that, you can't recognize the bananas.

Another excellent way to disguise the true taste of bananas is real honest to goodness southern style banana pudding.

You'll need to start with overripe bananas, of course. Then layer them into home made vanilla pastry cream, surround the entire concoction with Nabisco Vanilla Wafers, cover it with meringue and then bake it for about 40 minutes. Bananas actually play a fairly minor role in this dish.

Here are three—one for morning, noon and night— excellent things to do with bananas this summer.

If you are bored with chemically altered corn flakes, gluey bananas and 2% milk, try this: slice six bananas pole to pole, cover with brown sugar, some butter, a little lemon juice, cinnamon and a cup of grated coconut. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, then turn the bananas over and bake for ten more minutes. After the bananas come out of the oven, pour a dollop of maple syrup on top. You'll never eat cold cereal again.

On the hottest summer days, a frozen banana hits the spot. And nothing is easier. Put Popsicle sticks into bananas, roll them in chocolate syrup, dip into jimmies and freeze until rock-solid. You're set to go.

Finally, don't let the summer go by without eating at least one banana split a week. The banana split is America's most underrated dessert. We would be a happier nation if we ate more of them.

And with the Banana Split Festival celebrated June 6th and 7th, you have a built in excuse to do it up big.

Chocolate, strawberry and coffee ice cream, whipped cream from scratch, real nuts (nothing packaged from the supermarket), drowned in marshmallow, caramel and chocolate syrup make the almost perfect banana split.

To take it to the top, make your own ice cream. That is a little more work (lie!) but well worth the effort. And to go to banana split heaven, make your own syrups. That too is a little more work (big lie!) but you have reached dessert nirvana.

One final banana split hint: after you cut your bananas, coat them with sugar and broil them for about a minute on each side.

Remember: you want to cover up the real taste of bananas.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.