Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It's Just Bananas

Detail of clump of bananas growing and with the flower from "Morning Mist Rising" 
by Fran Hardy Copyright

An interview that Terry Gross did with Dan Koeppel on Fresh Air this morning on his book, "Bananas, The Uncertain Future of a Favorite Fruit" made me think about how enchanted I have been with banana plants, ever since I saw them growing up close and personal in Jamaica in around 1973. Not only were the large leafed plants beguiling but when I saw how the bananas formed on the stalk and the magnificent large and unusual inflorescence, I was inspired. When we moved to Punta Gorda, Florida I went to Echo Nursery in Ft. Myers and saw all the edible fruit plants they carried. Their collection of types of banana trees was extensive. I never knew there were so many luscious and beautiful varieties beyond the standard cavendish banana we get in the stores. Each of their inflorescences was different as were the sizes, colors and tastes of the different types of bananas. There are even apple bananas and ice cream bananas.

Here is information on bananas from Echo Nursery. They are now not selling all the varieties that they grow there because of the threat of  the fungal banana disease "Black Sigatoka" which is not in the United States yet but which biologists feel will be impossible to prevent from reaching here from other countries and which will wipe out the Cavendish bananas we eat here. Cavendish are the ones commercially grown for export because their skin is tough enough to allow them to be shipped.

I grew bananas in our yard in Florida and the wonderfully tasty varieties I grew were too fragile for shipping. The other thing that happens is that you get a huge clump of bananas like the picture above and even the most ardent banana lover can not eat all those bananas before they get over ripe. I made banana bread etc and finally discovered they could be frozen and used as a sweetening base for a fresh fruit sherbet when pureed with other fruits. Scrumptious....of course I gorged on fresh bananas for days when they were ripe. That is a sweet succulent taste treat unlike any store bought banana. 

In the radio interview Dan Koeppel gives a glimpse into the history of how bananas came to be America's most popular fruit. The name banana republic (not the clothing store, but the South American countries) came from the fact that business men decided to make the banana America's most popular fruit by growing them cheaply in South America in order to supplant the apple which can be grown locally.
In order for them to be able to sell bananas cheaply they had to grow and ship them as cheaply as possible. They paid extremely low wages in the countries where they grew them and any country or government that complained was taken over, with American assistance, in order to support the interests of companies like American Fruit. In the interview they said there were literally 22 coups supported secretly by our government making the banana barons very rich. These were the early companies that became Chiquita and Dole. 
To hear a podcast of Terry Gross's interview or read about the fascinating history and story of bananas, that we take for granted will be on our market shelves, go to the link above or buy Dan Koeppel's book. 

Echo is an educational nursery well worth a visit. Here is a brief description of their important mission from their website below:
Our goal is to improve the abilities of international community development workers assisting poor farmers by providing useful, important information and by networking their skills and knowledge with each other. We also provide hard-to-find beneficial food plants and seeds.
ECHO understands that there is a wealth of agricultural knowledge among the poor farmers we seek to assist. As such, ECHO does not "teach" people how to farm. Rather we work to make farmers more effective at growing food producing crops under harsh conditions. 
To read in much more detail about them go to the link above.
"Morning Mist Rising", 80" x 36", oil over egg tempera with 22kt gold leaf on panel
by Fran Hardy copyright

Banana is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa and for the fruit they produce. Bananas come in a variety of sizes andcolors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red.
Almost all modern edible parthenocarpic bananas come from the two wild species – Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. The scientific names of bananas are Musa acuminataMusa balbisiana or hybrids Musa acuminata × balbisiana, depending on their genomic constitution. The old scientific names Musa sapientum and Musa paradisiaca are no longer used.
Banana is also used to describe Enset and Fe'i bananas, neither of which belong to the Musa genus. Enset bananas belong to the genusEnsete while the taxonomy of Fe'i-type cultivars is uncertain.
In popular culture and commerce, "banana" usually refers to soft, sweet "dessert" bananas. By contrast, Musa cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called plantains or "cooking bananas". The distinction is purely arbitrary and the terms 'plantain' and 'banana' are sometimes interchangeable depending on their usage.
They are native to tropical South and Southeast Asia, and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea.[1] Today, they are cultivated throughout the tropics.[2] They are grown in at least 107 countries,[3] primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent to make fiber,banana wine and as ornamental plants.
The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant.[4] The plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy and are often mistaken for trees, but their main or upright stem is actually a pseudostem that grows 6 to 7.6 metres (20 to 24.9 ft) tall, growing from a corm. Each pseudostem can produce a single bunch of bananas. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but offshoots may develop from the base of the plant. Many varieties of bananas are perennial.
Leaves are spirally arranged and may grow 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) long and 60 cm (2.0 ft) wide.[5] They are easily torn by the wind, resulting in the familiar frond look.[6]
Each pseudostem normally produces a single inflorescence, also known as the banana heart. (More are sometimes produced; an exceptional plant in the Philippines produced five.)[7] The inflorescence contains many bracts (sometimes incorrectly called petals) between rows of flowers. The female flowers (which can develop into fruit) appear in rows further up the stem from the rows of male flowers. The ovary is inferior, meaning that the tiny petals and other flower parts appear at the tip of the ovary.
The banana fruits develop from the banana heart, in a large hanging cluster, made up of tiers (called hands), with up to 20 fruit to a tier. The hanging cluster is known as a bunch, comprising 3–20 tiers, or commercially as a "banana stem", and can weigh from 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb). In common usage, bunch applies to part of a tier containing 3-10 adjacent fruits.
Individual banana fruits (commonly known as a banana or 'finger') average 125 grams (0.28 lb), of which approximately 75% is water and 25% dry matter. There is a protective outer layer (a peel or skin) with numerous long, thin strings (the phloem bundles), which run lengthwise between the skin and theedible inner portion. The inner part of the common yellow dessert variety splits easily lengthwise into three sections that correspond to the inner portions of the three carpels.
The fruit has been described as a "leathery berry".[8] In cultivated varieties, the seeds are diminished nearly to non-existence; their remnants are tiny black specks in the interior of the fruit. Bananas grow pointing up, not hanging down.
Bananas are naturally slightly radioactive,[9][10] more so than most other fruits, because of their high potassium content, and the small amounts of the isotope potassium-40 found in naturally occurring potassium.[11] Proponents of nuclear power sometimes refer to the banana equivalent dose of radiation to support their arguments.[12]


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