A Bounty of Bananas



Bananas seem quite unpredictable. You wait with bated breath – for an eternity, it seems. First the plants grow for awhile. Then suddenly one day, you notice that a bloom is emerging – or more likely, you see that not only has the bloom popped out, but there are baby bananas peeking out from the curled-back (uh, what are they, anyway – sepals? sheaths?) modesty shields. New rows of baby bananas keep appearing for a bit, then you stop noticing. Some time later (weeks? months?) you realize that there’s a full stalk of bananas there, not quite filled out yet. And the waiting begins. Now it seems like they just sit there and sit there with no perceptible change. But wait! Suddenly, they’re fat and plump and – NO! we missed it! The whole plant bent over from the weight! Some are already turning bright yellow! Quick! cut it down! Let the cut end drip for a few hours before bringing it inside. Ahhh, pure heaven… those poor imitation unripe bananas from the supermarket have NOTHING on these – but you MUST wait until they are fully ripe. How ripe, exactly? The peel needs to get thin. The bananas nearly fall off their attachments, and at the blossom end, the tip breaks off with no pressure. The bananas will even start to get some brown dots on the skin. Then they are PERFECT. If you haven’t eaten a farm banana at peak ripeness, you haven’t lived. Even store bananas will benefit from waiting until they’re completely ripe, but they’re missing that je ne sais quoi. In our case, we grow the ‘apple’ type bananas – varieties like Mysore that have a bit of malic acid (that’s the hint of ‘apple’ with just a dab of acidity). These are generally short and fat bananas.
It started last week. First we found a nice stalk, modest in size. Then I stumbled across a gorgeous big stalk – hiding in the tall weeds before we mowed, we’d missed it, but found it just when it had turned bright yellow from top to bottom (this is not a common occurrence – there’s usually some green and ripe ones simultaneously). Then we found another stalk – this one a bigger variety, more like the kind you see in the store. Then we came across another one, and, did I see yet another one lurking?
In reality, a banana plant will grow anywhere from 13 to 24 months before the bloom emerges. That bloom spent the previous 5-7 months making its way up the inside of the plant. There’s a signal leaf that comes out just before the bloom. It’s much shorter than a normal banana leaf, so if you’re on the lookout, you can usually predict a bloom. From the time you see that bloom poking out, it talkes about 4 months to harvest time. So you really can tell when to expect bananas, but they always seem to catch me by surprise!

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September 2009

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