Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Banana (30 JAN 2013)

They say that commercially-grown Gros Michel bananas imported till the 1950s, before Panama disease attacked, were richer and sweeter than those we eat today. I can only imagine ...

We have to make do with the Cavendish variety of banana. When I'm in a healthy phase it's my mid-morning snack, a satisfactory substitute for a chocolate bar. However, when I throw caution to the wind, banana dipped in melted chocolate is the ultimate taste sensation, so much more than the sum of its parts.

Growing banana plants in the northern hemisphere didn't appeal to me so much. My mother had one with unknown origin in her garden, it was presented as a shoot by a neighbour. I'm not sure if it was located next to a fence and surrounded with bigger plants by luck or judgement, but in fact bananas thrive in company, the best fruit being produced in the middle of plantations when the conditions are right.

According to the RHS : Bananas need a long and sunny growing period of some nine to 15 months, with temperatures above 15C (60F) to fruit, with an optimum temperature of 27C (81F), followed by a further two to four months for the fruit to ripen.

So the best that the happy banana plant could produce was a few flappy, green leaves after dieing down each winter. I never even bothered to photograph it, but it was my mother's pride and joy.


Summer 2012 - a banana plant is in the midst of this lush jungle
 
We once went to a Chinese restaurant where one of the chef's specials was sticky rice parcels with finely-shredded pork and water chestnuts, steamed in banana leaf wrappers. It was difficult to detect if banana leaf essence contributed to the flavour of the dish but I had to admit it was moreish. She had a knack of being able to replicate restaurant meals at home, partly by gleaning as much information as she could from the waiters, the rest by guesswork. I wish I'd watched her concoction as I didn't notice which of the bottles on her Chinese shelf she shaked a dash from or how much Chinese 5-spice she sprinkled in; a few slices of roast pork from the man at the take-away perhaps. I do remember her going into the garden with a knife and returning with neat squares of banana leaf, which were passed over a gas flame till they were pliable.

I had forgotten all of that until I was wandering by her flower-beds a week ago and came across the banana plant, finally allowed to be prominent, not looking its best.
 
 January 2013 - banana plant stands alone
 
I had a flash-back of her tending to the plant with a bundle of old tights in hand every year before the cold weather started - it had slipped my mind. I rushed to her gardening bin and rummaged around, no old tights but some fluffy material wrapped round, covered loosely with a plastic bag and tied with a piece of string would do the trick, if it wasn't too late.

Wild bananas are inedible as they are filled with relatively large seeds. The tiny black spots in the bananas we eat are unviable, vestigial seeds, remaining after planthunters found mutant seedless banana plants and bred them to produce deliciousness thousands of years ago. These sterile plants haven't evolved since, yet the diseases which attack them have and its just a matter of time before the Cavendish banana succumbs too.

A shoot of my mother's banana plant, potted and raised indoors might have a sliver of a chance of fruiting and a microscopic chance of mutating to bear seedless fruit; it might be the forebear of a new edible banana for the future. On the other hand, I could plant it by the fence in my own garden, surround it with some plants and bask in its exoticness, just like she did.

References :
You might think of the bananas we eat as symbols of fertility, but they are actually sterile : http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2008/09/the-sterile-banana/
Bananas don't like to be alone :
http://www.tropicalpermaculture.com/growing-bananas.html

Today I'm linking up to banana plant fans :
Deb grows a banana plant in her wood :
Mark & Gaz grow banana plants in their alternative eden:
 
©Copyright 2013 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2013/01/banana-30-jan-2013.html

16 comments:

Andrea said...

Oh b-a-g, i am so sorry for your mother's banana, it really is a tropical plant! I have worked with bananas for a few years before and love working on it because the fruit is predictable unlike our mango. In a country with many banana varieties, we don't like the Cavendish, we will eat it only when nothing is available. We have bananas in the property since kids, and they seem just there without any fertilizer, pesticide etc, totally organic and self sufficient, year by year, with only some physical cultural mgt practices done like cleaning the stalks and cutting the leftover flowers. But today, they are diminishing so rapidly because of the famouns virus, bunchy top! We now experience buying some hands when we feel like eating them. Haaaay!

Mark and Gaz said...

Hi b-a-g, I think the banana your mum has that comes back every winter is likely to be Musa basjoo. It can bear fruit outdoors in the UK if allowed to get bigger by protecting the pseudostem but the fruit is not edible. There is a Dwarf Cavendish variety though that can be grown inside a warm conservatory and the little fruits are edible.

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

I just returned from where the banana grows wild. They were everywhere, but I agree, they are had to overwinter in climates such as ours.

linniew said...

People grow those huge-leaved no-fruit sorts of bananas here in Oregon. They are very tropical looking and seem hardy. Your snow photo and understated remark about it made me laugh, but I bet that banana plant will return, blankets or not. I enjoyed all the great banana-facts and history. (They do kind of pretend to fertility...)

HolleyGarden said...

I hope your mother's banana plant survives. I have never had one, because I am too lazy to cover anything in the winter. I didn't know that about the bananas and the diseases. I eat a banana every day, even though I never thought about it as a substitute for chocolate!

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Hi b-a-g, what a lovely post, I do remember a friend who grew up in rather warmer climes telling me that the bananas we eat are not a patch on the ones that she uesed to pick as a child. I rather like the idea of you planting a little offshoot of your Mum's banana in a corner of your own garden - and I am sure bubblewrap would do instead of tights...

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Fascinating info about bananas. I know so little about them...but I bet your mum's plant would love your garden!

Alistair said...

Hi b-a-g. Banana plants do look very ornamental growing in a pot and placed outside in Summer, even works up here as long as its taken indoors in Winter. Banana is the one fruit which I eat daily sliced in my porridge. Occasionally some of them have an unpleasant flavour, Fyffes are usually the best, dipped in chocolate sounds divine.

Carolyn ♥ said...

Your mother sounds much like my own... she gathered starts from her travels and willed them to grow. I'm guessing her banana plant brought her sweet memories.

Roger Brook said...

You might be interested in my own post about bananas last month.

altroverde said...

Hi b-a-g! You always make me smile somehow. I am not fond of bananas growing in my garden too but I have one in a pot. I just hope it didn't make it over winter this time.

I've never had the courage of dipping a banana into chocolate but I guess you are right about it's deliciousness.

carolynsshadegardens.com said...

My favorite uncle taught 5th grade and was very eccentric. He had banana plants in his classroom, and his former students still remember them when i meet them. After he died, a mutual friend gave us an off shoot of one of my uncle's plants. We plant it in our meadow every spring and it grows to over 10 feet. After frost in the fall we cut it to the ground, stick it in a container, and store it in the garage.

Orkneyflowers said...

Hi there. I nearly crashed one day in upper largo in five seeing a huge banana in a pot on the street by the dustbin. Needless to say I rescued it and gave it to a chum with a nice conservatory, didn't have the space myself and not sure bananas might do so well so far north.

Fun post most bananas are bred to be sterile aren't they......which seems like oxymoron.

Vertical Gardener said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your mother's banana plant. This was a lovely blog about your memories of her in the garden. I'm pulling for you (and the bananas!)

Stacy said...

What an enviable skill, to be able to recreate recipes like that--and then to have banana leaves growing handily in your garden. It's also good to know that tights have a use that doesn't involve painful constriction around the waist. (But I'm with Janet: bubble wrap.) (For the plants, not the waist.)

b-a-g said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Andrea - Did you have to tell me that you only eat cavendish bananas as a last resort ???

Mark & Gaz - If I decided to grow edible bananas (I need to get a heated conservatory first), I think I would grow one of the delicious bananas Andrea writes about.

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