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Alaskan Range: Waffles

Greg Hill writes on waffles, bananas and other tasty topics.

To read more of Greg's superlative columns visit http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=greg+hill

The National Waffle Association may not be an official organization, but any waffling enthusiast can obtain a NWA mug, T-shirt, or even a “lifetime membership card” at www.TinHatNovelties.com.

True waffling devotees transcend such superficiality, however; they know how the noble waffle evolved in medieval times from the ancient wafer; they’re versed in construction of the seven types of waffles; and they adhere to the teachings of waffle masters, like www.MrBreakfast.com, who advises “Avoid violent mixing,” “Separate eggs whites from yolks,” and “Steam: a waffle’s natural kitchen timer.” OK, I’ll admit to sporting an NWA decal on my auto, and, like Howard Dean once said, “I’ve waffled before and I’ll waffle again,” but, bananas, rather than waffles, are today’s columns real topic, and the path there must wind through waffles.

Wafers, according to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, are flat cakes made from unleavened flour and water. They date back to ancient Egypt and beyond, though our term “wafer” comes from medieval Anglo-Saxon “weben,” which meant “to weave,” since the grills upon which they were cooked left ridged impressions. Since wafers contained no animal fat, eggs or dairy products, they could be sold by monastic bakers to legally tide over hungry fasters. The well-off fasted even better by adding flavorings like saffron and sugar to their wafers. Eventually, leavening was added, and waffles were born.

The Brussels, or Belgian, waffle, and its close cousin, the Liege waffle, employ yeast-leavening. The others use baking powder, like American waffles, which were introduced here by pilgrims in 1620, who adopted the recipe during their lay-over in Holland. By the late 1700s, American party animals were staging “waffle frolics,” like Thomas Jefferson, who showed off the fancy waffle iron he acquired in France. Early Americans enjoyed their waffles both sweetened, with molasses or maple syrup, and savory, with toppings like kidney stew being a favorite. Last weekend my American wife reveled in the maple pecan banana waffle recipe I borrowed from Mr. Breakfast. I’m not one to brag, but President Jefferson would have approved.

Bananas , according to www.FoodReference.com, were introduced on these shores at Salem, Massachusetts in 1690. Instead of waffles, the pilgrims opted instead to boil their bananas with pork. Unsurprisingly, “it took nearly 200 years after that culinary disaster for bananas to catch on with North Americans,” but today our average annual consumption tops 30 pounds apiece. Bananas are wonderfully nutritious and packed with interesting lore. For example, bananas are technically berries grown from herbs and not fruit from trees, and the excellent www.nutritiondata.com says that, compared to apples, bananas have four times the protein, twice the carbs, five times the phosphorous, and nearly six times the potassium.

The Chiquita banana website extols bananas’ low fat, cholesterol, and sodium ratings, but other Internet sites promise all sorts of banana-related cures. An article from www.thethinkingblog.com, for instance, “20 Fascinating Facts About the Natural Healing Power of Bananas,” claims that bananas will alleviate everything from blood pressure, seasonal affective disorder, and depression to hangovers, morning sickness and warts. A MIND survey is cited in which depressed participants reported feeling better after eating a banana since it contains “tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax.”

Bananas for depression? That’s hard for a librarian to swallow, so I turned to the online health resources at our public library’s online databases to really nail it. Both “Whole Food Nutrition: a Bunch of Reasons to Go Bananas,” from “Alive: the Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition,” and “Comfort me with Radishes,” from “Yoga Journal” mentioned that bananas’ tryptophan can help with stress and depression, though no grandiose promises were made.

The word “banana” probably comes from the African Wolof language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but it wasn’t used to mean “nuts” until 1935. Of course, around the library we’re bananas about our free summer reading programs, “Be Creative @ Your Library,” for ages two to twelve, and another one for older kids, “Express Yourself @ Your Library,” both including fun, age-appropriate activities and prizes. We’re all about encouraging children to read during the long summer break, for as Groucho once said, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”


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