While writing my thesis on the impact of rationing in WWII, I came across the story of a British teenager who had won a banana in a raffle in 1942:
“ … it was cut into pieces with a taste for each member of the family. It seemed criminal to just to throw the skin away, so we put it in the middle of the road outside the house and had a lot of fun watching the surprised looks of several passers-by, a few of whom could contain their curiosity no longer and picked it up to see if it were real.”
While the British example is extreme, we will all remember the devastating affect of Cyclone Yasi and the moment a bunch of bananas jumped from $4/kg to $15/kg. It was the first time I questioned the presence of a sliced banana on my bowl of cereal.
Even in times of peace and prosperity, there is quite a bit of work to get the banana to your table. Like pear, avocado and mangoes, a banana will not fully ripen on the tree. They are picked green, transported and then ripened, often in large sheds, with the use of ethylene gas. During this stage the starch to sugar ratio will change from approximately 25:1 on the plant, to 1:20 in the fully ripened fruit. Interestingly, not only do bananas not ripen on the tree, they don’t even grow on a tree. The plant is actually a giant herb and a relation of the grass family.
The word banana is thought to come from the Arabic word banan which means finger. Each stalk will bear one flower, the flower in turn bears up to 20 hands (clusters) with each hand bearing as many as 10 fingers. That’s a lot of bananas but with the voracious world-wide appetite (an average annual consumption of 14kg per person) it’s a good thing. It’s now just a matter of keeping the cyclones and wars at bay.
Select and store:
In Australia we have two main varieties of banana: plantains (cooking bananas) and dessert bananas (Cavandish, lady finger and gold finger).
Once a banana has been ripened it actually has a very short shelf life. If you are looking for a banana to eat now, choose one with a few brown patches. A green tinge on the end will be perfect in a few days time. You can speed up the ripening process by placing an unripe banana in a paper bag with an apple or a ripe banana, both natural sources of ethylene. I find that over-ripe bananas are great for baking, they can be popped in your freezer for use later.
Bananas should be stored on the bench (the skin will go black if stored in the fridge, although they will still taste fine).
Chocolate, caramel, fish, butter, brown sugar, spices, cereal, nuts, chilli, honey, rum, curry, dry coconut, pancakes.
Cooking with -
Plantains, if you are lucky enough to find them, are most certainly the most fun to cook with. Generally you treat them like a starch, such as potato: fry, steam, boil or mash. A firm dessert banana can be cooked with great success.
Grill a banana in its skin on the barbecue, when it is nicely charred split open and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar for a simple al fresco dessert.
Gently fry some sliced banana in a frying pan with brown sugar and a little butter. Once caramelised add a dollop of pouring cream and a tablespoon of rum (optional) to combine and make a beautiful sauce. Divine with ice-cream.
To make banana muffins: Add a mashed large banana to your regular muffin mix with the wet ingredients. Continue as per the recipe.
Sprinkle bananas with dessicated coconut and serve with curry.
Make a banana smoothie by combing 1 banana, 1 cup cold milk, 1 teaspoon honey and a little nutmeg in the blender. Whiz and serve immediately.