Any Way You Slice It

Labor Day is right around the corner, but I call your attention to a couple of tastier holidays this time of year. Last Thursday was Peach Pie Day and a month henceforth will be Strawberry Cream Pie Day.  October will usher in Pumpkin Pie Day, as well as Boston Cream Pie Day.  In November, we’ll celebrate Bavarian Cream Pie Day.  Next May we’ll celebrate Apple Pie Day (and that one should be designated an American holiday).

These pie-eyed celebration days come and go with little more than crumbs for fanfare, but any attention to pie is a good thing in my book.  Whether sweet or savory, fruit or cream, single or double-crust, bite-size (“cutie pies”?) or multiple-serving-size; you can never have too many fingers in pie.

Pie is literally a part of my DNA.  My grandmother used to make delicious Cornish pasties, those hearty beef stew pocket-pies favored by generations of coal miners, each containing an entire meal within their flaky golden-brown crust.  My mother raised my brothers and I on the fruit pies her own mother taught her to make.  My favorites were cherry, peach, and mince; piping hot and a la mode (or in the case of mince, “a la hard sauce”).  I can still picture my mother adorning her creations with strips of dough – elegant top-crust latticework too pretty to consume.  She made it look easy as pie.

They say the signature of a great pie is its crust – ironic because history says pie crust was never meant to be eaten.  With the advent of flour in ancient Roman times, pie crust served a practical purpose: to contain and preserve the food within, especially for a soldier or sailor or some other kind of several-days traveler.  It wasn’t until bakers turned their attention to the crust when “real pie” was born.  Can you imagine the first time someone tasted a savory buttery crust, melded with hot fruit filling, cooled by the freshness of vanilla ice cream?  The whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.

   Royer’s Round Top Cafe, Texas

Any Texans reading this post will likely direct me to the Hill Country in the southeast, to little Marble Falls or tiny Round Top.  Both towns boast of serving “the best pies in the Lone Star State”, be that the Blue Bonnet Cafe in the former or Royer’s Cafe in the latter.  Blue Bonnet has a “Pie Happy Hour” and a regionally-renowned German Chocolate Pie.  (My favorite cake as a pie?  Sounds like a slice of heaven.)  Royer’s has something called a “Texas Trash Pie” (pretzels, graham crackers and coconut) and I can get one with a few clicks of my mouse.  Don’t tempt me.

No nod to pie would be complete without saluting Hostess Fruit Pies and Kellogg’s Pop Tarts – staples of the American childhood.  Hostess enticed you with those colorful wrappers and the promise of “real fruit filling” (though my favorite was actually the chocolate).  No matter the flavor, you consumed a brick’s worth of glazed sugar, chewy crust, and gooey fruit filling.  It’s a wonder we didn’t sink to the bottom of our swimming pools and bathtubs.

    

Kellogg’s Pop Tarts were svelte by comparison; a deck of large playing cards.  My mother favored the non-frosted fruit variety to keep our pantry “healthy”, but she snuck the brown-sugar cinnamon tarts into the basket too.  I ate hundreds of those.  Someone needs to invent a brown-sugar cinnamon pie.

Any Hollywood-types reading this post would remind me the ultimate pie movie is “Waitress” (now a Broadway musical), or “Michael”, where in one glorious scene Andie McDowell surveys a table’s worth of pie and gleefully sings, “Pie, pie, me-oh-my, I love pie!”

Thanks to a new local restaurant, I don’t have to travel to Texas to find amazing pie.  3.14 Sweet & Savory Pi Bar is as inclusive as it sounds.  Choose from a dozen or more “Pot Pi’s” for your entree (my favorite is the Irish-stew-inspired “Guinness Sakes”); then sprint to dessert by choosing from over twenty temptations (hello “Blueberry Fields Forever” Pi).

For the record, cake gets its share of celebrations as well.  Last Wednesday was “Sponge Cake Day” and November 26th is “National Cake Day”.  For me, those days will come and go like any other.  Those who celebrate cake should eat some humble pie and admit which dessert deserves the higher praise.  But hey, no time to debate; a chicken pot pie is in the oven and calling my name.

Banana Rant

Let’s start with a song today; or at least a verse from a song.  See if you remember this little number:

Jack, Jack bo-back, Banana-fana fo-fack. Fee-fi-mo-mack, Jack!

The song? It’s “The Name Game”, that annoying rhyming chant that should stick in your brain for the next several hours.  Here’s another one:

Day-O! Day-O! Daylight come and me wan’ go home!

The song?  It’s the “Banana Boat Song”, made popular by Harry Belafonte.

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I mention these songs because they’re happy on bananas.  And I hate bananas. Let me rephrase: there is no fruit, vegetable, or otherwise consumable item on God’s green earth more singularly unappetizing to me than bananas.  I only have to think about the taste of a banana and I consider tossing my cookies.  Bad news for me though – supermarkets, songs, commercials, movies and desserts ensure my world is constantly bombarded with the yellow fruit.  Bananas are as prevalent in the urban jungle as they are in the real one.

I blame my growing-up years, now that I think about it.  My first bike was a 1968 Schwinn “Lemon-Peeler”- the one with the “banana” seat.  What in God’s name was I thinking?  I could’ve had Schwinn’s “Pea-Picker” (green) or Schwinn’s “Cherry-Picker” (red) but no; I had to opt for a “Banana-Peeler” (as it came to be known).  It horrifies me to realize I sat on a banana for a good chunk of my childhood.

My Saturday mornings included “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour”; that silly animal rock band I somehow found entertaining.  Disney crushed me with “The Jungle Book”: King Louie eating bananas every time he was on-screen and even singing about them.  (I will never sing about bananas.)  Finally, I can’t shake those Chiquita banana commercials, the ones with Miss Chiquita dancing and singing: I’m Chiquita banana and I’m here to say… catchy little jingle.  It’s like the media was conspiring to force me to like bananas.

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Fruit was a requisite item in my school lunches back then.  Oftentimes my mom would put a banana in my school lunch instead of an apple or an orange or grapes.  My protests went unacknowledged at home so I gave bananas away at school, to anyone who showed interest.  Not that I got anything worthwhile in return.  Bananas have little value in the American high school.

All of the above pales in comparison with one ghastly horror-film-worthy banana-filled-memory.  Coming into the kitchen one morning before school, I found my mom busily frying bananas on the stove.  I rubbed my eyes in disbelief but the image didn’t go away – banana slices sizzling and popping in an oil-filled pan.  Seriously?  Aren’t bananas bad enough the way nature made them?  Couldn’t I opt for a bowl of sliced bananas and oranges instead, where enough shredded coconut on top blocks out the banana taste?  Apparently not.  Mom just had to be adventurous.  I can still picture that plate of thin, dark, hot, greasy banana slices next to my more redeeming breakfast items.  Gag.  It’s a forever-imprint on my brain.

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Even the concept of “acquired taste” failed me with bananas.  For example, I used to hate tomatoes (and yogurt repulsed me even more), but somewhere in my food journey I actually learned to enjoy them.  Now they are staples in my diet.  Not so bananas.  Bananas are as choke-worthy today as they were in that frying pan forty years ago.

If I must eat bananas there’s only one way they’re going down the hatch – in banana bread.  I actually like banana bread.  That’s probably because the dozen other ingredients win the battle and effectively expunge the banana taste.  It’s like Fig Newtons if you hate figs.  Or Oysters Rockefeller, with enough broiled cheese and spinach to effectively kill the oyster.

Opinion: bananas foster, banana splits, banana cream pies, and banana pudding are all outstanding dessert choices as long as you leave off the bananas.

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Facts: 100 billion bananas are consumed every year across the globe.  Americans alone account for 27 pounds/person/year, which equates to 108 bananas!  You’ll find bananas on the list of the “World’s Healthiest Foods”.  The Latin word for banana translates to “Fruit of the Wise Men”.  California even has a Banana Museum for crying out loud. (17,000 items!)

None of that moves me.  Gwen Stefani may sing B-A-N-A-N-A-S on “Hollaback Girl” and shirts or sweaters may tempt me at Banana Republic, but I will never put “like” and “bananas” into the same sentence (er, except this one).  But hey, call me if you’re hungry.  My 108 bananas are all yours.

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