GOIN’ BANANAS OVER DEAN

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IT’S JANUARY…

(or it will be by the time of this publishing)  …and while the holidays are just a memory for most of the world, Greece keeps celebrating all the way through the 6th of January.

The rains are more frequent now and the temps have dropped.  More home cooked suppers and warm wood fires at night…  NICE!

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And finally there’s a little extra time to explore a blog topic that was suggested to me by David Nall (high school classmate of James Dean, and son of Dean’s drama teacher Adeline Nall)…  In a correspondence back in Sept/Oct, David mentioned to me that he’d like to see something written about Jim’s drawing and painting talents.  He mentioned that Jim had done the illustrations for the Fairmount High School year books…something he felt many Dean fans were unaware of.

I expanded that topic to include many of his drawings and doodlings from younger schoolboy days in the margins of his notebooks, through the years of expressing himself on the back of theater programs in New York, and sitting at Googies Coffee Shop in Hollywood drawing caricatures of his friends on napkins.  You’ll find a Gallery of these drawings and more (at the bottom of this blog), right after this month’s featured recipe…  (As a reminder, you can click on ANY of the images within this blog to see them LARGER.)

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The recipe to accompany this story is his Aunt Ortense’s Banana Salad…the very dish he proclaimed in Fairmount High’s school newspaper The Breeze, as his most favorite food in the world.  (Following the death of his mother, 9 year-old Jim was raised by his aunt and uncle in Fairmount, Indiana.)

Ortense’s Banana Salad is NOT going to be a taste for everyone’s liking.  For ME it brings back nostalgic memories…of my Aunt Katie making this for family gatherings.  Served on separate tiny salad plates with her perfectly appointed place settings…she was masterful in the entertaining kitchen.  Preparing old family favorites, but often sneaking in a trendy new recipe that she clipped and saved out of the Paxton Record or got from someone at the church potluck.

In the years since, I always thought of banana salad as one of those 1950s salad/desserts…you know, like the orange Jell-o with carrots, raisins, and mayonnaise concoction…or mini marshmallows with shredded coconut, canned fruit cocktail, and canned Mandarin orange segments in a pseudo-version of Ambrosia salad…  But this recipe seems to go waaaaay back.  To at least before 1916 when it first started appearing in cookbooks.

published by the United Fruit Company, 1928

I was curious as to the availability of bananas, such an exotic, tropical fruit, in 1930s-40s small Midwestern farming communities like Fairmount.  The answer came from my mother who informed me that bananas WERE widely available at that time.  My grandfather (a farmer in rural Illinois) would go to town and bring back an entire stalk of bananas, which were hung in the coolness of the root cellar and consumed as they ripened.  She also told me that their Christmas stockings (my mom had 2 sisters) were filled each year with 1 banana, 1 apple, and 1 orange.  They only got one present each…which was a doll.  They had one pair of shoes that took them to school during the week and got polished before church on Sunday.  Because they were a farm family, food was always plentiful.  That was not always the case for families who lived in larger cities.

published by the United Fruit Company, 1940

Bananas originated in Southeast Asia (first cultivated around 5000 BC) and the highly priced luxury fruits (bananas are a berry) were first imported to the US from Portugal around the end of the Civil War.  In 1871, a 23 year-old American man named Minor Keith started planting bananas along side the railway his Uncle was building in Costa Rica.  They were first sold by a US grocer at the 1876 Centennial Philadelphia Exposition, wrapped in foil for 10 cents apiece (equivalent of a week’s wages).

By 1899 Keith’s banana business was nearly bankrupt.  He merged his company with 2 railroad men from Boston and formed the United Fruit Company.  With their newly expanded widespread distribution, coupled with an aggressive marketing and education campaign, banana sales exploded.

United Fruit Company, 1931

Bananas were touted on the merits of health benefits for people of all ages, as well as a nutritious baby food.  Recipe books were produced by United Fruit educating the consumers on how to best cook the green bananas as a vegetable, eat the ripe bananas raw, and use the over-ripened ones in baked goods.

Popularity and longevity seem to have firmly rooted “Banana Salad” in the Midwest and South of the US.  It’s a family tradition in many households (especially in Kentucky it appears, if you go by Google results) and just as many variations exist.  Ortense made a cooked dressing.  Other recipes call for store bought mayonnaise from a jar (something that wouldn’t have been as readily available in 1940s small town Fairmount, IN).

Banana salads are either sprinkled with chopped nuts or rolled in crushed Corn Flakes.  In the South, they sometimes refer to it as “banana croquettes.”  The scandalously newly re-popularized “candle salad” adds pineapple rings, mayo or whipped cream, and a Maraschino cherry to the mix (scandalous because of it’s laughingly phallic presentation).  Other variations can include peanut butter in the dressing mix.  Check out Google to find out just how many ways there are to make a “banana salad.”

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In 1944 the United Fruit Company introduced “Chaquita Banana,” a character based on the real life persona of singer, actress, and entertainer Carmen Miranda

Banana stands were a popular home accessory from the late 1800s through the 60s and 70s. They kept the bananas elevated from other fruits that caused them to ripen too quickly. (cover of the Chaquita Banana Cookbook published by United Fruit, 1970

vintage examples of the “Candle Salad”

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HERE’S MY LATEST VIDEO,

A KITSCHY TRIBUTE TO BANANA SALAD…

HOPE YOU ENJOY!

 

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AUNT ORTENSE’S BANANA SALAD

(a James Dean favorite!)

Ortense Winslow’s recipe is fairly straight forward.  Fast and Easy to make too.  Bananas really ARE a superfood, and this salad (even with all that sugar) seems to balance out the calories by providing significant amounts of potassium, magnesium, copper, vitamin C, B6, fiber, and protein.

click to view larger

It’s very sweet…  It’s weird.  Almost like banana pudding or a banana cream pie.  If you’ve never tasted banana salad, you may be surprised that it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds.  I think I still prefer the mayonnaise version that I was familiar with growing up.  I found that adding a couple of tablespoons of good vinegar or lemon juice to the dressing, adds just the right amount of “tartness” to balance the sweet (for my taste).  Not a recipe I’ll make often…and not one I’ll make for dinner guests (with the possible exception of a totally retro-themed dinner party)…  But make it as part of your lunch or for a mid-day treat…then close your eyes, imagine the sounds of Aunt Ortense in the kitchen peeling vegetables for the evenings meal, the radio in the corner playing a peppy tune, imagine the fragrance of fresh Indiana farm air gently wafting through an open window on a warm Spring day, the curtains rustling in the breeze, and imagine you and your buddy Jim sitting at the colorful oil-cloth covered kitchen table, cracking jokes with that infectious giggle of his and eating the most favorite food in your teen-aged world.  NICE!

 

To read more about Ortense Winslow, check out these previous blog postings, ORTENSE WINSLOW’S SOUR CREAM DRESSING FOR SLAWCAKE WALK, THE INDIANA HARVEST TABLE

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THE ART OF BEING DEAN

In Sept/Oct of last year, I was corresponding with David Nall about a blog I was writing for the Halloween edition.  He mentioned that he had been looking through his old high school yearbooks, and realized that Jim Dean had done much of the art work in them…David thought it’d be a great topic to write about…I agreed.  David recalled that “There was another artist, a member of the faculty (that also contributed to the yearbooks), but he ALWAYS signed his work.  Jim never did…”  (Reminder, you can click ANY of the images here to see them LARGER.  These images came from a wide variety of sources… some are rather blurry…I apologize, but thought they were still fascinating and needed to be included to tell the full story.)

So I went off exploring.  Jim attended Fairmount High School from the Fall of 1945 through his graduation in 1949.  I didn’t find any of Jim’s artwork in the first 3 years…but the ’49 yearbook was chock full.  Seems that Jim (or the yearbook committee) chose the theme of the Old West gold rush of 1849.  I was impressed by his skills in perspective drawing (particularly in the one depicting the covered wagons) and his rendering of horses (not an easy subject for most artists).

Her Pride

Adeline Nall proudly showing off “Her Pride”

Jim was encouraged in his artistic endeavors by his mother from early on.  His Aunt Ortense continued this encouragement when he came to live with them at age 9.  Evidence of his enjoyment of painting and drawing exists from grade school through his years at Fairmount High.  Pete Beck (also a Fairmount High School graduate) mentioned that “I think Gurney Mattingly (art teacher) gave Jim an all year pass to the art room…”

Dean fans are well versed in the story that Adeline Nall (Dean’s drama and speech teacher) told and retold, of the orchid painting Jim did for her.  Of the lavender and white Cattleya orchid presented to her by the students after the Junior class play…of Jim borrowing that orchid and returning it with a painted he made entitled “Her Pride” so that she could keep it forever (which she did).

 

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Caricature by Dean of his friend, Maila Nurmi (Vampira)…  The caption reads, “What are they starring at?”

This spawned a curiosity in me to explore Dean’s drawings throughout the course of his life…  I found doodles in the margins of his grade school assignments (a story that rang true for me…when my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Seaman wrote in red ink on the back of one of my test papers, “That’s a lovely drawing Greg, but perhaps next time you should spend more time on the other side of the page answering the questions…”  lol!), doodles in his address books later in life, doodles on the backs of theater programs from his years in New York, and LOTS of doodles on bar napkins from New York and Googies Coffee Shop in Hollywood (doodling on napkins has always been a big thing for me too over the years).

Each one tells a story…some expressing career frustrations…others great pride in his accomplishments.  Some offer observations on the shallowness of people in Hollywood…or document funny moments that were shared with close friends.  I find the ones with recognizable people in his life, particularly interesting…Jack Simmons, Maila Nurmi, Geraldine Page…  David Loehr of The James Dean Gallery told me that Geraldine Page saved ALL of Jimmy’s drawings from the time they were together in New York (many of the better quality images in the gallery below are from David’s extensive collection).

Caricature by Dean of his friend Jack Simmons.

There are a few surviving paintings, in watercolor and oil, that show a tremendous advancement in his abilities.  Dean also tried his hand at sculpting, demonstrating definite potential.  Drawing, painting, photography, and sculpting were definitely a tool for expression in Dean’s life.

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HERE’S A GALLERY OF DEAN’S ART WORK

(WITH DESCRIPTIONS OF THE AVAILABLE INFORMATION I COULD FIND)

A nude elf spearing a hanging hot dog, a fish noticing his tail is cut off, and an odd beast with a treble clef tail...(from the collection of David Loehr)
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2 Comments

  1. So interesting! Thank you for researching and sharing this aspect of Dean’s life.

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