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Going bananas for appealing fruit

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QUESTION: I was thrilled last year when I successfully made a healthy Banana Cream Pie. The dessert was delicious, but after a few hours the bananas in the pie turned brown and I apologized to my company for the appearance. Any idea how I can prevent this in the future? Stestasia, Lorette

ANSWER: Don't worry. Yes, bananas do turn brown. However, they may be the only fruit that is best not so fresh. Bananas past their prime are soft and extra sweet, mashing beautifully to become a creamy addition to cakes, breads and pies.

However, I understand presentation is key and you want your food to look as great as it tastes. Here are a few tips to prevent bananas from turning brown in your pie: Make the crust and filling ahead of time and let both cool before adding the filling to the crust. Also spread a half-cup of custard on the bottom of the crust. Arrange about a third of the banana slices, crowding them close together, over the custard. Next, spread one cup of the custard over the bananas. Arrange another third of the banana slices close together over the custard. Top with remaining custard and banana slices, covering the bananas completely to prevent them from turning brown.

P.S. Julia Child said: "Never apologize for food that you make. I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as 'Oh, I don't know how to cook...,' or 'Poor little me,' or 'This may taste awful,' it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, 'Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!' The cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile -- and learn from her mistakes.' "

QUESTION: Is it necessary to wash a banana before you eat it? Thanks, David, Winnipeg

ANSWER: Well it depends on what you're going to use it for. If you're going to peel and eat it, it doesn't make sense to wash the outer skin. If you are going to cut through it, like melons and other fruit, it is smart to wash the peel first.

Speaking of bananas...

*Prevent peeled bananas from turning brown by putting them in a soda pop drink, leave for 10 minutes and drain. This also works for apples, peaches. Or brush the banana with lemon juice.

*To keep the flesh of a peeled banana from turning brown, mist it or dip it in the juice of an acidic fruit such as lemon, lime, orange, or pineapple.

*Store bananas away from other fruits, as the ethylene gas given off affects ripening. Ripening can be halted by placing the banana in the refrigerator, but this will cause the skin to darken considerably. On the other hand, if you want your bananas to ripen; Green bananas may be put in a brown paper bag with an apple in a dry, warm place. It usually takes a couple of days for ripening.

*Overripe bananas may be frozen in a plastic container until enough bananas have been saved to make banana bread. Thaw before using.

*Individual bananas may be wrapped very tightly in plastic wrap, to keep them fresher longer.

*Banana peels are great for shining shoes. Remove banana strings, and then rub the soft inside of the skin all over your shoes. When done, buff with a soft cloth or paper towel.

*Some people have reported banana peels shine leather. Test on a small area of the leather first.

*Use the inside skin of a banana to polish your silverware.

*Neglected houseplants can become dusty. Instead of spraying water on them and spreading the dirt more, use the banana peel to wipe the leaves down. Wipe the soft fleshy skin all over the green leaf surface to remove dirt, dust and grime.

*If aphids tend to attack your rosebushes or other plants, bury dried or cut-up banana peels a few centimetres deep around the base of the aphid-prone plants, and soon the pests will be no more.

*Use overripe bananas to create a homemade facemask that will leave your skin moisturized and soft. Mash one ripe banana into a smooth paste, then gently apply it to your face and neck. Let it set for 10-20 minutes, then rinse with cold water. You can also add one quarter cup plain yogurt to the mixture for a super spa feeling.

*The world's easiest way to open a banana is from the flat tip, not the stem. Pinch the flat tip and the banana will split open, then just peel as normal. With this genius tip, you will no longer have banana strings. Great -- now you're one step closer to resembling a monkey.

Did you know?

*Bananas trees are not trees. The banana plant is a giant herb.

*Bananas have no fat, cholesterol or sodium.

*According to the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, bananas are the most popular fruit in the world. Bananas for North America are imported largely from Central and South America.

*One large banana, about 22 centimetres in length, packs 602 mg of potassium and only carries 140 calories. That same large banana even has 2 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. No wonder the banana is considered an important food to boost the health of malnourished children!

I enjoy your questions and tips, keep them coming. Missed a column? Can't remember a solution? Need a speaker for an upcoming event? Check out my brand new videos/blog/website:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2013 F15

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