Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yes, we have some bananas-Fall Pantry Challenge Three

But for how long?My friend Johnny over at Bearded Weirdo (adult language there, if the occasional f word offends, then not your kinda site, ok?) posted recently about the ticking time bomb that is Panama Disease, a blight that, once introduced to a field of banana plants, turns into a Musa terminator.

Fusarium wilt (aka Panama Disease) is responsible for the eradication of the tastier bananas people who are my age and older grew up with, the Gros Michel. Currently, most companies are Wizard of Ozing it up ala the blight (pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!), but it has become clear in Asia that the Cavendish bananas, the ones my kids grew up eating, the variety that replaced the Gros Michel and are currently found in all our supermarkets, are not resistant.

Banana wilt has resurfaced in China where it is wiping their Cavendish fields clean. The first year it take about five percent of the crop. The next year, twenty percent become infected and die. In the third year the infection rate soars to fifty percent and by the fourth year, the entire crop is destroyed. In southern China in 2007 it was reported that 39 percent of their crops were affected. Banana plants once infected either stop producing fruit or if they do fruit, do not produce marketable specimens. The bananas in your store are safe to eat, in other words, so no need to panic, but....

Biological warfare waged organism on organism is a tricky process. We've typically paid more attention to it as represented by the appearance of antibiotic resistant staph strains in humans, (MRSA) but it all follows a similar story line.

On one side of the biologic checkerboard a disease, let's say Panama banana blight, nearly wipes bananas off the face of the earth. Hop. That's one checker off for the black team. Humans intervene and replace their crops with a new variety, the Cavendish. Hop. That's one checker off for the red team. The once dormant blight then reappears, and the Cavendish is now a vulnerable host to the blight. Hop hop hop. If not stopped in some way, Black calls "king me" and clears the board.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, if you are a banana fan, pay attention, support organic bananas and do some reading so you will be prepared to understand why it might require a genetically managed banana to allow the delicious yellow crescents to remain ubiquitous in the produce section of the world's grocery stores. Otherwise, if Panama Banana blight has the last word, bananas might become just about as procurable as, well, mangosteens. And potentially just as pricey.

It is also a way to explain why I refuse to throw even a significantly overripe banana away. These bananas we enjoy and take so for granted are clones, the cheetahs of the fruit aisle, and as such, are not necessarily long for this world.

Fortunately, there is something that can be done short or long term with those browned softened bananas. They can be transformed into that workhorse of the quick bread family, Banana Bread.In my world, banana bread is one of those near perfect foods, like peanut butter. It is moist and delicious and keeps well. The flavor improves day to day. It provides nutrition, especially if you use organic ingredients, and it can deliver protein if you add nuts. It is suitable for breakfast in lieu of a muffin, or as a healthy snack (sliced thin and spread with peanut butter or topped with yogurt). It can even go decadent and be reheated slightly, topped with ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce and chopped nuts for an amazing dessert. And banana bread is dead simple to make.

Here is the recipe I use from Elise at Simply Recipes. I add chopped pecans because I'm from Texas and the pecans here are amazing and often abundant and the only thing better than banana bread is banana nut bread. Also, it is the way my mother in law always made it, and she was an amazing baker, so for our family, banana nut bread is the way to go.

I also use frozen bananas (although I thaw them first) to make my banana bread. I can't remember where I first read that you can freeze bananas once they start to go brown and use them whenever you are ready, rather than being held hostage to the banana's rapid ripening timeline for your baking schedule. Having a stash of frozen bananas in the freezer also means you can save up and bake in quantity for gift giving or large gatherings, if that suits your needs.If you haven't frozen bananas before, there isn't that much to know. You simply stick the banana, peel and all, into the freezer. It will go completely brown and eventually may shrink a bit as the moisture rearranges. If your banana has not been riding around in your freezer very long, it will substitute into a banana bread recipe one for one. If it fell in back behind the frozen spinach boxes you only use once a year during the holidays for dip (hypothetically) and it has shrunken somewhat, then I suggest using a two/one ratio of frozen to fresh bananas as called for in your recipe.

Prior to using your bananasicles, you are going to take them out of the freezer and leave them out on the counter to defrost, resting on a folded dish towel to catch the moisture. This takes a couple of hours. If I know I'll be making banana bread I take my bananas out of the freezer right after I get that first cup of coffee in the morning. Usually by the time I am ready to bake, they are defrosted. I recall reading somewhere you can use your microwave to defrost them, but haven't tried that. (If you do, let me know how that turns out.)A word about defrosted bananas. They are soft, very soft, and the skin once defrosted does not suffer much handling without yielding its substance to the cold cruel world, ok? When you are ready to begin your bread making you will delicately peel the stem end off the banana, holding it over your work bowl, and the thawed banana innards will then plosh right out into the bowl without needing much encouragement. I hold the emptied peel over the bowl for a few seconds past that to allow any remaining moisture to fall onto the pulp.

Defrosted bananas are halfway to mashed already. It rarely takes more than a pass or two with my potato masher to have the pulp ready for combination with the rest of the ingredients. Do not be concerned about browning or the generalized not so attractive appearance of your pulp. It will not affect your finished product in the slightest.

Ok. Wow - I really got sidetracked there didn't I.... Here is the recipe for the banana bread. Once it has cooled, you will want to wrap it and refrigerate it and it will keep for several days (if you don't eat it all before then). Banana bread freezes well. If I don't want an entire loaf for just the two of us I freeze half and keep it for a future treat.
Banana Bread
3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Spinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix.
Pour mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch loaf pan.
Bake 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.
My notes (did you seriously think I didn't have any?): I make this with 3/4 cup sugar and it is generally nicely sweet, especially if I have used 4 bananas. I take the bread out of the loaf pan after it has cooled for 15 minutes because that is the way I was taught to treat quick breads by my mother in law who was a phenomenal baker. She told me to do it that way and I do. As I mentioned before, I add a cup of chopped pecans to this because again, that is the way my mother in law made hers, so that is the way banana bread is supposed to be in our family. If you don't have any or want to use walnuts or almonds, or want to throw in chocolate chips or don't like nuts in yours, this is a very forgiving recipe, no worries.

1 comment:

Flapjacks said...

banana bread is soooo good.