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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012

Going bananas over cookbooks

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

My babies have returned. My beauties have come back home. And where have they been all this time?

Stuffed into some boxes in a storage facility.

I am, of course, talking about cookbooks. What did you think I meant?

As part of the final leg of what has already been certified by Guinness as the Longest Move in History, we finally transferred all of our remaining boxes out of a storage unit and into our basement. These boxes are now slowly being unpacked. Along with all of the unimportant stuff, like clothes, we are also uncovering cherished treasures, like cookbooks.

It has been two years since I have last seen Joy of Cooking, Julia Child, and Jacques Pepin, two years since I last beheld a host of books that may be less known but are still a vital part of my kitchen. Seeing them again is like spending time with old friends.

And then there are the friends you don't see very often, the ones you try to forget about, the ones you only send a Christmas card to out of a misplaced sense of obligation.

I am speaking here of a little pamphlet that had been completely forgotten among the other cookbooks. It is called The New Banana, it is 24 pages long, and it was published in 1931 by Fruit Dispatch Co. on behalf of United Fruit Company Bananas.

At the time, United Fruit -- they're now Chiquita -- was in the midst of a concerted effort to get more Americans to eat bananas. Though the fruit was no longer considered exotic, it still had not gained widespread acceptance. So the company printed this mini-cookbook with every possible recipe involving bananas that they could conceive of at the time.

One of these, for bananas wrapped in bacon, is described on the back cover as "guaranteed to start conversation." I imagine it would, but it couldn't be the type of conversation that most banana-producing companies would want to begin.

The front cover, incidentally, shows a picture of a knife cutting a half-peeled banana into several slices. As a man, it makes me a little uncomfortable.

I don't remember when or how I happened to acquire this booklet, but clearly I got it as a joke. I feel certain that the idea of the conversation-starting bananas with bacon dish had me paging through the book, looking for similar, unintentionally hilarious ideas.

They are there to be had, though perhaps in smaller numbers than I might have hoped (after all, an earlier version of the booklet introduced Americans to the concept of slicing bananas over cereal). So yes, it does include a recipe for a banana and liverwurst sandwich (mix them with ketchup or chili sauce and spread on slices of bread). But surely you can't go wrong with a classic such as bananas and peanut butter.

You can't go wrong, that is, unless you put it in a sandwich with lettuce and mayonnaise, which the booklet recommends. It also suggests a sandwich of banana mixed with deviled ham.

Fried bananas (cut in half, rolled in cornflake crumbs or bread crumbs and deep-fried) may actually be pretty good, but I'm not about to try them. Neither will I be boiling three bananas in less than 1 1/2 cups of a sweet-and-sour syrup that has been spiced with an astonishing 24 whole cloves. Forget the bananas; you'll never get the smell of cloves out of your house.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of The New Banana is its assertion that slightly unripe bananas, when cooked, can be considered vegetables. Admittedly, United Fruit was in the fruit business and may know better than I, but there is something about that thesis that seems wrong to me.

We should not scoff too hard, though. Nothing remains static; society moves on, tastes change. In 80 years from now, people may well be snickering at the horrible ideas promoted by Joy of Cooking, Julia Child, and Jacques Pepin.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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