A frozen banana means it's summertime all over again

Now that the warmer days of summer have finally visited the Northwest, it's nice to carry around a cooling, frozen treat to nibble on as you troll the sidewalks.

Thoughts of Popsicles and ice cream bars always begin, for me, with childhood memories of my mother filling an ice-cube tray with Kool-Aid. She'd then insert a stick into each cube when it was still only half-frozen.

Later, probably after she'd read one of her many mail-order catalogs, she found a rubber mold that she would fill with orange juice or some other healthy drink, and it would make four Popsicle-like bars at a time. I'm sure we didn't get store-bought Popsicles and ice cream bars until after we'd started school.

I think most of the ice cream cones we enjoyed were made at home, too. At least, I don't remember ever having a store-bought cone until I was in third grade, living in southern California - though probably I did.

The parents of the boy who lived next door used to rent an apartment every summer on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. When they'd move to the beach, my brother and I would be invited along for a week to keep their son company.

It was on Balboa Island that I discovered the frozen-banana stands.

Recently, while watching the Food Channel on cable TV, I discovered that the frozen banana was originally conceived on Balboa in 1935. The Balboa/Newport banana stands have been successful ever since.

First the banana would be peeled, a wooden skewer stick would be inserted into one end and the banana would be frozen. When the customer requested one, it would be taken out of the freezer and immediately rolled in a tray of melted chocolate. Then - quickly, before the chocolate hardened - the coated banana would be rolled in crushed peanuts.

Whenever we were in Newport, we'd nag our parents until they stopped at a frozen-banana stand. Later, when we'd finally attained a driver's license, trips to the beach for frozen bananas became more frequent. Also, a midsummer trip for frozen bananas was an offer that not many dates would turn down.

Because my brother and I were surfers, we traveled up and down the coast searching for waves. It seemed that most of our surf safaris would end up at a banana stand in Newport when turning inland and heading home. We also discovered that frozen bananas seemed to be somewhat unique to the Newport area.

With banana stands almost as plentiful in Newport/Balboa as coffee shops now are in Magnolia/Queen Anne, competition drove the stand owners to begin offering options to lure customers.

First, you could get your choice of milk or dark chocolate; then they started offering different types of crushed nuts, and colored or chocolate sprinkles as toppings. A few stands even experimented with frozen cherries or frozen pineapple sections dipped in chocolate.

When my father's job transferred us from Los Angeles to Detroit in the mid-1960s, I began my quest to find an acceptable frozen banana in the Midwest.

I found one store that had frozen bananas at the bottom of their list of soda fountain offerings. I knew, however, that when they pulled out a banana already dipped, rolled and packaged, my search would continue.

I don't think the California type of frozen bananas ever existed in Michigan, so I was forced to live with my own dismal homemade attempts.

Having moved to Washington 30-plus years ago, it was important that I discover a local shop that offers excellent frozen bananas. And I did. Besides producing some very delicious fudge and other scrumptious candies, the Cascade Candy Company in the heart of La Conner will hand-dip and roll a frozen banana - right before your very eyes.

As I was sitting recently on a bench in the sun on the main street of La Conner, eating my frozen chocolate-covered banana, I almost absentmindedly started searching my kneecaps and the tops of my feet for caked-on surfboard wax. Boy, that banana really took me back; it's just what I was searching for.

Gary McDaniel lives in Magnolia. You can write him at mageditor@nwlink.com.[[In-content Ad]]