We have visited Cotters’ Market a few times in the last month and have been enjoying ‘monkey bananas’, always on sale there but rarely in shops, in consequence. As you can see from the photo, they look much like miniature Cavendish bananas (they are shorter and much slimmer than our sugar bananas, featured here with the same teaspoon and coffee mug). They don’t last so well, going from green to black in only three or four days, but they are good to eat while fresh, sweet and slightly acid with a smooth texture – although one is rarely enough.
Names of banana varieties are often problematic but I think I have this one worked out: its official name is Musa acuminata (AA Group) ‘Lady Finger’ and is a ‘Monkey Banana’ here but a ‘Lady Finger’ or ‘Sucrier’ elsewhere, a ‘Golden Banana’ (pisang mas) in Malaysia and an ‘Egg Banana’ in Thailand and Cambodia (kluai khai or chek pong moan respectively) (Sources: wikipedia ‘Lady Finger Banana‘ and this big list from Melbourne University, plus forums)
I don’t know whether I will ever grown them, since it appears that only a few varieties may be sold as plants and the monkey banana is not on the list. On the other hand, I now have a young Pisang Ceylan plant, a thoughtful Christmas gift bought from the Blue Sky stall at Cotters’. It is growing well in a pot and ready to be planted out once the wet season has come and gone and the new plant won’t be washed away before it establishes itself. Its first fruit may arrive in time for next Christmas.
When I was writing about our home-grown bananas six months ago I wanted to include a photo of the most impressive bunch of bananas I have ever seen, but I could not find it. This week I cut down the first bunch of our own bananas since round about then, which reminded of my omission. Here is the photo at last:
As you can see, the plant – obviously very well fed, but nearly dead by the time I saw it – kept on producing bananas until the flower touched the ground. It is a small variety to begin with but the fruit got smaller still as the bunch got longer; the lowest are only about the size of my little finger and, I would think, completely inedible. Still, it is an amazing achievement for such a small plant.
I have tried to learn more about banana varieties but have not had much success, mainly because their classification and naming is such a mess. In brief, there are about 1000 varieties, most of them known to be hybrids of two wild species but some (the Fe’i varieties) of uncertain origin; and many of the varieties have different names in the different countries they are grown in. The Wikipedia Banana article is the best online resource I have found. A monograph by Daniells, Illustrated Guide to the Identification of Banana Varieties in the South Pacific, published by The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is good but the only version of it that I can find (the pdf here) lacks the photographs listed in the index.
I doubt that more knowledge will make much difference to me in practical terms, anyway, since I know what variety I already have and will simply plant whatever other varieties I can obtain locally.
When we came to this house twenty years ago we came to a somewhat neglected but well established garden. The house was already more than forty years old, a product of the post-war building boom that necessarily accompanied the post-war baby boom, and its first owners had planted a mango tree in the back corner of the yard as everyone did in Townsville in those days. We also found a macadamia tree, grapefruit and lemon trees and (getting to the point of this post) a clump of bananas.
The bananas have flourished with minimal care and have given us more fruit than all the rest put together.
Each plant begins as a sucker from the base of an older one and takes 6 – 12 months to produce a bunch of fruit. Each plant only produces one flower and one bunch, and the remains of the plant simply become mulch and compost after the fruit is cut. Grass clippings are spread amongst the plants as well, but that’s all the feeding they have needed. They do need a lot of water to thrive and they really enjoy the wet season.
The flying foxes normally alert us by visiting when the bunch is ripe enough to pick (and sometimes get a percentage of it if we don’t pay attention) and I go out with a knife on a long pole. I trim the leaves, then cut the trunk at head height to bring the bunch within reach, cut the bunch off and bring it indoors to finish ripening. That usually takes a few days and we then have anything from 20 to 200 bananas which need to be eaten within a week or so. Friends, relations, neighbours and colleagues have learned to expect free bananas from us when we pick a big bunch. That’s okay – the fruit was free to us anyway, and often returns in the form of paw-paws, pomelos or tomatoes from recipients’ gardens.
Bananas are peculiar amongst widely-grown crops in their lack of genetic diversity. Almost all the commercial production is of just one hybrid variety, the Cavendish, and all the plants – worldwide – are clones, meaning that any disease which affects one plant can affect all of them just as seriously, with potentially catastrophic effects on global production (see the excellent Wikipedia article for more on this).
Also, of course, it means that to most people a banana is a banana is a banana in a way that is simply not true of apples, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. As one writer put it, “The diversity of bananas is similar to citrus. Consumers would be aghast if only oranges were available, when they knew about lemons, limes, mandarins, pummelo and grapefruit.”
For both reasons we were happy to find that ours are not Cavendish. Eventually we worked out that they are not Lady Fingers either (it always seemed improbable, because ours are much stumpier than Cavendish and surely ladies’ fingers should be slim?), but Sugar Bananas, more formally ‘Ducasse‘. They were apparently introduced to northern Australia from Thailand in the 1880s.
They are a little more acid than Cavendish and the texture is smoother, almost slippery. They are wonderful fresh, and keep well in the fridge (although the blackening of the skin is a bit off-putting) but we haven’t found them to be good in cooking because they go leathery.
We always have more suckers than we need and I’m happy to give them to anyone willing to drop by and pick them up. Just contact me first.
Someday I might write again about other varieties of bananas. Until then, enjoy the fun discussion at chowhound.chow.com.
We didn’t set out to grow chillies but we do it anyway. The bush just appeared in the garden, perhaps a year ago, weaving its way up through a hibiscus bush. It must have grown from seed, either from our compost like the tomatoes or from bird droppings. We didn’t even notice it until the first fruit began to ripen but when they did, we thought we might as well leave the bush alone for the odd occasion we want one in our evening meal.
When we tried them, we found they were pretty powerful, at least by our standards: one chilli makes a dish for six people hot enough that at least one of them will think it is too hot to enjoy.
If you want to know about really hot chillies, try this article from Australian Geographic. Ours are not in their league. If they were, we would have ripped the plant out long ago as a menace to gardeners and small children.
There’s more about chillies and their relations here, on wikipedia. I knew they were originally South American but I had never thought about how and when they became so central to Asian cuisine.
Fill large styrofoam box 2/3 full with well-rotted compost.
Place in sunny position (near swimming pool is ideal).
Repeat step 3 daily until the greenery is big enough to identify.
Repeat step 3 daily.
Prop up tomato plants as necessary.
Repeat step 3 daily.
Harvest when ripe.
Did I say, “Purchase seedlings,” or, “Plant out seedlings in the box”? No and no. Not necessary – with our compost, anyway. We have known that for years, because tomato seedlings pop up as if by magic in our plant pots and garden beds. We often let them grow wherever they choose to appear; this time we simply encouraged them.
Did I mention pesticides? No. We didn’t even need to think about using any.
Varieties? We always get cherry tomatoes, and did this time as well (there is one in the bowl although it’s a bit hard to see) but I don’t know why we got so many Roma tomatoes. Perhaps they are better at reproducing from seed than the hybrids.
Food miles? 0.01 (0.0001 when they are eaten straight from the bush).
And the taste? On a scale of 1 – 10, on which standard shop-bought tomatoes rate 4 – 6, these rate between 9.4 and 10.