Bananas and banana bread

I have just completed a delightfully entertaining, informative and depressing book about my favorite fruit: the banana. Dan Koeppel’s Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World details the sordid history of the banana, the different varieties found in different regions of the globe, how the politics of the banana plantations directly impacted and often dictated the politics of several Central American nations, and the nature of the frighteningly aggressive diseases that not only wiped out an entire species of banana, but will eventually destroy the banana as we know it.

It had never occurred to me before that the banana we eat for breakfast, despite its phallic design, is a completely asexual being. There are no seeds from which new bananas can be spawned. To grow a new banana plant, a branch must be cut off an existing plant and planted anew. Basically, the banana plant must be cloned. (At least, that’s how it works with the banana we eat here. Apparently, there are other “seeded” varieties of banana found in remote Asian jungles and deep in the heart of Africa, but the hard seeds render them inedible.)

The problem with this setup is that the banana is unable to evolve; a banana today retains the same strengths and weaknesses as the original banana. Therefore, when a newly mutated disease comes along, the banana has not developed a defense and will be doomed to suffer the wrath of the plague.

It seems that a plight of biblical proportions has already smote us in such a manner. The Gros Michel, the banana of my parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods, is no more, thanks to a strain of Panama disease. Fortunately for us, when the disease struck, a similar variety of banana, the cavendish, was ready to take over. The transition was apparently so smooth that none of my older relatives who had had the opportunity to taste the Gros Michel noticed any difference between the two.

Much to my horror, I have discovered in my perusal of this tome that there are several equally destructive diseases that have already begun to strike bananas across the world. While the Gros Michel was lucky enough to have the cavendish waiting in the wings, the cavendish itself seems to be stranded. Due to reasons too many to list here, there is no ready replacement for the cavendish. It seems that it’s not a question of “if” the diseases reach our Central American supply of bananas, but “when” – and that “when” may be in the next ten to thirty years.

It saddens me to know that if no suitable replacement is found and accepted, my children and grandchildren will not know the subtle, creamy delights of the banana. One thing is for sure: I have a new appreciation for the fruit, and I intend to gorge on as many as I can while I have a chance. That way, if the banana goes the way of the dodo, I will be sick of them and won’t care as much if I never see one again.

Below is my own original recipe for banana bread, which is on the dense, moist and sweet side. Feel free to adjust the spices as you deem necessary.

Banana bread

  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ c. butter
  • ¾ c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-6 overripe bananas, mashed
  • a handful of semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottom of a 9”x5” loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine flours, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well-blended. Add banana mixture and chocolate chips to flour mixture; stir just enough to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 65-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mike
    Jun 29, 2008 @ 12:31:32

    No more bahooters 😦


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