Musa acuminata Colla, M. X paradisiaca L. (hybrid)
Bananas are the fourth largest crop in the world, comprised of over 400 cultivated varieties, and the plants grow throughout every tropical region. The plants are called trees, but are actually a perennial herb. The stem is composed of tightly wrapped leaves surrounding the eventual flower stalk. The fruit is technically a berry and may range from 2.5 inches to 12 inches in length. Cultivated varieties are seedless with just the vestiges of ovules appearing as brown flecks.
Dwarf varieties make good container specimens, if given careful attention to sunlight and humidity. Bananas require plenty of water and fertilizer. Care must also be taken to transplant potted species periodically as the old plant dies back and new rhizomes develop.
Bananas were not originally a sweet fruit, but more like the plantain, or cooking bananas of today. The sweet yellow banana we are all familiar with is a mutation discovered in the 1800’s by a Jamaican man named Jean Poujot while he was out in his plantation. Plantains are usually reddish or green, and when he found this yellow one and sampled it, he was quick to propagate his find.
Bananas actually develop better color, flavor, and texture when picked green and ripened off the tree. The sterile ovules release ethylene gas and carbon dioxide that aids ripening of any other fruit nearby. A dull, gray color on an unpeeled banana indicates the fruit was exposed to excessive heat or cold during shipping. Placing bananas in the refrigerator can slow their ripening, but the peels will turn brown. Bananas can also be peeled and frozen to be used as a puree in baked goods or smoothies.
Tami’s Best Banana Bread
Preheat oven to 350 F.
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 very ripe, mashed bananas
In a separate dish combine, then add to butter mixture:
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon orange juice
2 cups flour
If desired, fold in 1 cup chocolate chips or ½ cup chopped pecans.
Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Toothpick inserted into center of loaf should come out clean (or covered in chocolate – but no batter.) Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool as long as you can wait before serving. I like this loaf the next day, but my family likes to eat it when the chocolate chips are still too hot to put on your tongue.