My milkshake story starts in an unlikely place:
The Andes mountains of South America, where once a month the banana man came to visit.
He drove up to my village in his battered pickup truck, the bed laden with branches of bananas straight from the tropical coast.
There were all kinds. Red bananas. Baby bananas. Sweet yellow bananas and starchy green plantains.
I bought an entire branch of oritos, the smallest, sweetest variety.
The banana vendor laughed at the gringa buying his bananas. “You can’t get these in your country!” he said. “We save the best bananas for ourselves and ship the bland, dry ones to you.”
He had a point. Bananas destined for America were picked green, then ripened at the supermarket with the help of ethylene gas.
Just as nothing beats sun-ripened tomatoes, nothing beats sun-ripened bananas.
At the village store, they dipped bananas in chocolate, stuck a popsicle stick in them, froze them, then sold them to the kids on hot summer days.
In a community where everyone was poor and ice cream a luxury, chocolate-covered bananas on a stick did just fine.
Locals fed bananas to their dogs, peels and all. Although I’d never thought of bananas as dog food, the dogs seemed to love them.
But my time there ended. I returned to America. Once home, I found myself irresistibly attracted to those foods you just couldn’t get in a village store. Reese’s Puffs cereal. Twix bars. McDonald’s milkshakes.
Sometimes, those artificial flavors really hit the spot.
It didn’t take long before my beloved American cuisine began to show up in the typical way: my waistline. My clothes were getting tight. I didn’t want to buy new jeans, so I needed to cut back.
Could the foods I’d grown used to in South America help?
About that time, a friend forwarded me a link to 1-ingredient ice cream.
I was skeptical. How could you make ice cream with just one ingredient? Unless it was a practical joke, and the 1-ingredient ice cream was made out of … wait for it … ice cream.
Nope. I was wrong. The article was no joke, and the magic miracle ingredient was my old friend…
All you had to do, the article claimed, was throw frozen banana chunks into a blender, and voila! You had ice cream.
I tried it. I was unimpressed. My old blender couldn’t cope. I didn’t see how it was possible to blend it down without at least a dribble of liquid.
So I regrouped.
This time, I got discounted overripe bananas from the supermarket. Extra soft, extra sweet.
I cut them into blender-friendly chunks, laid them out flat on a cookie sheet, and froze them. The chunks went into a freezer bag for storage while I decided what to do next.
I decided I would try strawberry ice cream. I got some fresh strawberries, my freezer bag of bananas, and set to work.
The fresh strawberries were so juicy that my “ice cream” ended up more like a milkshake. With a drop of vanilla extract, there was no way McDonald’s could beat this shake. Fresh, creamy, and not even a hint of banana flavor.
I was hooked. I tried another combination: frozen banana, a big scoop of Nutella, and a splash of milk. I gave it to my daughter. “Want a McDonald’s chocolate shake?”
She looked at me suspiciously but had a sip. “Yum!”
I was on a roll.
It was then I did something I’ll always regret.
One day, on a shopping trip to the supermarket, I picked up a carton of ice cream and turned it around so I could read the ingredients list. I wanted to know what went into ice cream that made it taste so good. Maybe I could steal some of those secrets for my frozen banana milkshakes.
I expected to see ingredients like milk, cream, and vanilla.
Instead, I saw insane things. Things that don’t belong in ice cream. Whey protein concentrate, mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum, guar gum, carrageenan.
If you’ve got ice cream in the freezer, go grab it now. Look at the label. See how many of those ingredients you can actually pronounce.
And that was the end of an era. I stopped buying cartons of ice cream.
I couldn’t do it anymore. Not when I knew what went into it.
Every time overripe bananas go on sale at the store, I buy the lot. I’ve got freezer bags of bananas filling my freezer. Wouldn’t want to run out.
When frozen bananas get old, I use an ice cream maker. Some milk, cream, and eggs are all it takes to whip up some ice cream that makes a beautiful root beer float.
I love the fact that I can have a milkshake as often as I want, without worrying about my waistline.
And I feel so grateful to the banana man, who taught me there’s nothing sweeter than spotty bananas.