I’ve been helping my friend Lois Muehl put together a book of poetry she’s written over the past few years. This isn’t her first book, or even her first book of poetry, as she’s been writing for most of her ninety-three years, having sold her first effort at age eight. A retired professor of rhetoric at the University of Iowa, she has published scholarly works, magazine articles, light verse, children’s stories, travel pieces– you name it. You’ve probably chuckled over some of her short witticisms that, over the years, appeared in The Readers’ Digest and other publications. Aside from the University, Lois has also taught in Thailand, California, Korea and China.
At some time, Lois apparently noticed that the pattern of seeds in banana slices resemble a face– a grim face– and she wrote a short poem explaining why they should have such a disgruntled expression. Thinking about it, I have to agree that bananas are treated badly, whacked from their trees still green, shipped long distances in bunches, displayed in grocery stores where produce managers and customers tear them apart into smaller clusters, carted unceremoniously home in grocery bags where they are often hung on banana hooks to further ripen, then have their skins pulled off and are sliced into chunks. It’s no wonder, she concludes, that their faces are grim.
It’s been quite a few years since we heard the Chiquita® banana song on a radio commercial. Do you recall it? It went more or less like this: I’m Chiquita® banana and I’ve come to say/that bananas have to ripen in a certain way./You can put them in a salad/you can put them in a pie-ie-ie./Any way you want to eat them/it’s impossible to beat them./Bananas they have come from the very, very tropical equator,/so you should never put bananas in the refrigerator.
Way back then, I often wondered why it was a no-no to put them in the refrigerator. After all, once they became part of a banana cream pie, they could be refrigerated. And we regularly sliced them over ice cream. Or used them as a base for banana splits. So, what was the big deal about getting them cold? I experimented and discovered that refrigerating them caused the skins to take on a dirty, grayish-yellow color, but since the skins were discarded anyway, who really cared? The positive result of refrigeration was that it slowed down the ripening process so that you could buy more bananas at once and keep them from becoming overripe. I took it one step further and tried freezing them. If frozen in their skins, fully ripe bananas can be easily peeled and mashed to make banana bread. Peeled, cut into big chunks and frozen, they make cooling snacks for kids and other banana lovers, straight out of the freezer. Halved bananas with skewers inserted, frozen, then dipped into melted chocolate or any of those other shell coatings they use for ice cream bars, they make a tasty and more healthful substitute for ice cream.
As I write this, it has occurred to me that my mother would not have been likely to try any of those things during the 1930s and 1940s when I was a child. Her refrigerator boasted a four-ice-cube-tray freezing compartment that also served as the cooler for the refrigerator itself. The temperature could be adjusted low enough to keep ice cream frozen for a couple hours after it was brought home from the store, but one had to choose between making ice cubes and keeping ice cream. There was also the danger of over-cooling the refrigerator and freezing the lettuce, radishes, cottage cheese and several other things that didn’t take well to frigid temperatures. And no matter how low you turned the temperature control, the ice cream always became soft and runny after just a few hours, so it was looked upon as a special treat right up until my dad decided to buy a deep freeze.
This was a huge chest-type freezer that featured a “sharp freezer” which was a much smaller freezing unit with a much lower temperature than the larger, storage compartment. It was intended for flash-freezing packaged meat, fruits, and vegetables quickly before moving them to the storage part. I don’t know that modern freezers have that feature, since I haven’t investigated the newer ones for several years. It seems to me that there was less freezer burn then than we get today. Maybe we’re supposed to turn down the temperature of our freezer when we first put foods into them to be frozen. That might have the same effect. The problem that immediately jumps to mind for me is that changing the temperature setting in my freezer requires me to remove most of the contents in order to reach the controls that are located at the very back of the freezer. Has anybody ever thought of putting the controls on the outside? Just wondering.