More kinds of bananas

small bananas with a teaspoon and coffee mug
Monkey bananas with a teaspoon and coffee mug

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.

More bananas

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:

monster bunch of tiny bananas
An enormous bunch of small bananas in the gardens of the Cambodian royal palace, Phnom Penh.

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.

Chillies

Chillies, ripe and green
Chillies, ripe and green

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.

Tomatoes

How to make tomatoes at home:

  1. Fill large styrofoam box 2/3 full with well-rotted compost.
  2. Place in sunny position (near swimming pool is ideal).
  3. Add water.
  4. Repeat step 3 daily until the greenery is big enough to identify.
  5. Remove weeds.
  6. Repeat step 3 daily.
  7. Prop up tomato plants as necessary.
  8. Repeat step 3 daily.
  9. Harvest when ripe.
Bowl of mixed tomatoes
Sunday’s harvest

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.

Cost? $0.00.

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.

Will we do this again? You bet!