Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bananas Take A Bow

Surprise! I'm writing this post from Pennsylvania. Yep! I decided to come up for the weekend and of course my Mac is with me. I have an Imac already here but, I have gotten so use to the larger monitor I would rather bring this one with me. Whenever I come back home, I face the raising of the heat, the turning on of the water, the over filled mail box (they won't forward my mail anymore) and the perplexing questions. Which house has which groceries. Did I just buy laundry detergent in New York or PA? I know I just bought a jar of peanut butter, "oh" that was New York. Is the Mojito mix in this freezer or the other? (I prefer wine over any other alcoholic beverage, my son bought me some Mojito mix and I thought I would give it a try.) Uh Oh! Where's the limes? Well, you get the idea. To the rescue; a box of Rice Krispies. Both houses have a box of Rice Krispies always! Rice Kripsies are one of my I don't want to be all warm and cozy because I have work to do, comfy food. Oh admit it, we all have them. So after a six hour ride I arrived safely in PA. I made my usual stop at the neighborhood Uni-Mart (they don't have delis here:( for the bare necessities, milk, bread, eggs, and bananas. Well today anyway. I don't really usually buy bananas at Uni-Mart. They just looked so inviting and after the drive, they somehow brought out the urge for Rice Krispies, ice cold Pennsylvania milk, (sorry New York, milk is creamier in PA, really it is) topped with thinly sliced banana. BTW, I had my first bowl before I even crawled under the house to turn the water on. I'm eating the second bowl "as we speak" want some? Perhaps, the irresistible urge came over me because, I spent part of the time driving up here trying to figure out how to make introduce the banana.

Thank goodness, Thomas Johnson didn't have the same problem. He just hung a bunch of bananas in his shop window for all of Snow Hill, Britain to see. For the curious British on lookers, this was the first time bananas were available for purchase by them. Truth be told, at least a finger of credit should go to Alexander the Great. After Alexander the Great ate a banana in India, liked it and introduced it to the wider world it travelled to the Middle East, where it acquired its current name from the Arabic banan, or finger, and from there Arab traders took it to Africa, where the Portuguese transported it to the Caribbean and Latin America.

The banana is one of the oldest foods known to man. In 327 B.C the armies of Alexander the Great found the fruit growing in abundance in the valley of the Indus in southeaster Asia. The story of the spread of its use from Asia to Africa and from Africa to the Americas is full of historic interest. With the development of facilities for the distribution of this tropical fruit in the markets of North America and Europe has come a greater appreciation of its food value.

Don't you just love it when you can practically trace the fingerprints? It's one of the reasons why I collect cookbooks. You see, the cite above is from a small booklet titled A Study of the Banana; Its every-day use and Food Value. In tiny print it has Student Manual. The booklet was published by the Home Economics Department of The United Fruit Company, Pier 3, North River, New York, NY. (fourth ed. 1940)

The banana has an extensive trade history beginning with the founding of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) at the end of the nineteenth century. For much of the 20th century, bananas and coffee dominated the export economies of Central America. In the 1930s, bananas and coffee made up as much as 75% of the region's exports. As late as 1960, the two crops accounted for 67% of the exports from the region. Though the two were grown in similar regions, they tended not to be distributed together. The United Fruit Company based its business almost entirely on the banana trade, as the coffee trade proved too difficult for it to control. wiki

Now, according to what I could find out from various places on the internet, (I've provided a few of them below) the British were already familiar with bananas as bonana or bananero which is a form of Spanish for "banana tree." I suppose it would be only natural for Johnson to display them and offer them for sale. He had provided a woodcut of the fruit in his enlarged and amended version of the 1633 edition of [John] Gerard’s Herball (1597) The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes Even more exciting is he documented it!

Banana/Plantain pages 1514-1517.
"Musa fructus. Of Adams Apple tree, or the West-Indian Plantaine.

...Aprill 10. 1633. my much honored friend... gaue me a plant he receiued from the Bermuda's... The fruit which I receiued was not ripe, but greene, each of them was about the bignesse of a large Beane... This stalke with the fruit thereon I hanged vp in my shop, where it became ripe about the beginning of May, and lasted vntil Iune: the pulp or meat was very soft and tender, and it did eate somewhat like a Muske-Melon...

The fruit hereof yeeldeth but little nourishment: it is good for the heate of the breast, lungs, and bladder: it stoppeth the liuer, and hurteth the stomacke if too much of it be eaten, and procureth loosenesse in the belly: whereupon it is requisit for such as are of a cold constitution, in the eating thereof to put vnto it a little Ginger or other spice." source

There's a wonderful article which was written by Jules Janick in 2002 at Purdue University. The lecture titled The History of Horticulture speaks to the Horticulture, Politics, and World Affairs: Bananas and the Banana Republics (there is also an image of Johnson's woodcut) Below is an excerpt from the lecture:

The history of the banana industry began in Latin America during the last half of the 19th century. Captain Lorenzo D. Baker and Minor C. Keith introduced the first bananas to Boston and the Northeast between 1870 and 1889. The fruit was an immediate success and American entrepreneurs sought to control both banana production and trade. The subsequent exploits of North American sea captains, railroad builders, and adventurers became the precursors and then the founders of the United Fruit Company in 1899, a company that became a plantation and shipping monopoly. These efforts were to make the banana one of the first fresh foods to be internationally commercialized...The early years of the industry were marked by the aggressive action of the United Fruit Company in the unstable frontier environment of Central America. The industry was unique because no other perishable produce was carried such a long distance to market, and was available without regard to season. The industrial and market structure was called "industrial colonialism" and became the subject of constant and bitter controversy. The United Fruit Company was accused, often justifiably, of monopoly exploitation, political manipulation, abuse of native labor, disregard for human hardships, and peremptory management tactics...

Thomas Johnson, has been called "The Father of British Field Botany" he has been describe as a "learned, amiable, brave man." Unfortunately, it has been difficult for biographers to record the time line of his life especially since the name Thomas Johnson is a popular name. As a matter of fact, Wikipedia notes, "There were two Thomas Johnsons who were both botanists." I did find a minimum amount of information about him at the website cited below. #1 in resources

Johnson was an interesting figure, highly esteemed as a herbalist and physician, who died as a result of wounds he received during the siege of Basing House during the Civil War...A recent find by archaeologists excavating a pit in London makes in intriguing addendum to Johnson’s commercialising of the banana. A banana skin, dated at about 1500 was unearthed, tossed into what seems to have been a fish pond. The date probably means it came from West Africa, as the plant was only being introduced into the Caribbean at that time. Ed Note: see article Mystery of Tudor Banana

The following banana recipe is from a book titled Bull Cook & Authentic Historical Recipes & Practices (1969) by George & Berthe Herter. First, a bit of history on the recipe from the book.

Alexander the Great in his conquests in India saw banana trees for the first time. Bananas were called "pala" in India and still are around Malabar. He had bananas prepared for him with the following recipe and it is, I believe, the first banana recipe ever invented.
The Recipe: Take a bowl of fresh whole milk. Add one level tablespoon of honey. Stir the honey into the milk until it is dissolved. This takes quite a bit of stirring as honey does not dissolve easily. Then slice a banana into the honey-flavored milk and eat at once. This recipe makes fabulously good eating.

"Banana cake recipes did not become popular in homes until the end of the 19th century. Before this time a combination of unreliable shipping methods and a lack of refrigeration prevented the widespread use of bananas in home cooking. Only food stores in the major cities had access to bananas on a regular basis...Banana cakes had become common by the 1920s, and they became especially popular in the 1930s when enterprising grocers often provided their customers with free banana cake recipes in an attempt to sell the overripe bananas. Sometimes they could hardly keep up with the demand."classic banana cake recipes

Well, I finished my bowl of Rice Krispies quite a while ago. So what's my next best favorite banana dish? Bananas' Foster, of course. Simply Delicious. Banana flambé is a mouth watering dessert made from caramelized bananas and creamy vanilla ice cream. The sauce that tops it is made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The butter, sugar and bananas are cooked, and then the alcohol is added and ignited. The bananas and sauce are then served over the ice cream. The dramatic presentation of the dish is often served tableside.

In 1951, Chef Paul created Bananas Foster. The scrumptious dessert was named for Richard Foster, who, as chairman, served with Owen on the New Orleans Crime Commission, a civic effort to clean up the French Quarter. Richard Foster, owner of the Foster Awning Company, was a frequent customer of Brennan's and a very good friend of Owen. the recipe

The scanned recipes below are for bananas au gratin, banana rice savory, vegetable plate with bananas, and banana meat loaf. Hey, I don't make this stuff up!


  1. Hello Louise,

    I am so excited to see you speak about bananas. My children, of course, absolutely love bananas. As for me, one of my all time favorite foods, well desserts, incidentally, for me a dessert could quite easily replace any meal, anytime... so my favorite is Banana Pudding Pie. But the catch is that it HAS got to be made from scratch and there is no going around it. No boxed banana pudding... it is the real stuff for me. It's a to die for, farely easy recipe. If you or any of your readers are interested in please let me know. Thanks again.

  2. Hello frutlup, (Pumpkin)

    With an introduction such as yours, you better be sending me that recipe, yesterday:) There's just one "catch." Include a picture of your tempting dessert with my darling grandchildren in the pic and I will happily post it. Only kidding, but do give them kisses & hugs for me:)

    P.S. Hey everyone, I'd like you to "meet" my daughter, Michele (frutlup)


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