Thursday, October 16, 2008

Go Bananas!

For all my friends living in non-tropical countries, here's a riddle. What's red, thick and shiny and looks like a famous rock-star's lips ? Your clue is in the photo above.
Ummmm, no-o-o........ actually that's the bract of a banana flower. If you did guess right, come on over and I'll share some of my banana wine with you.

That's how the bract opens up, revealing one line of white/cream flowers underneath each one. Incidentally, these flowers in the photo above, are male. The female ones which develop into the fruit are found higher up the stalk.

When I was a child, we used to sip up the sweet nectar found in the flowers. There's such a tiny drop of it that it hardly seems worth the effort but children know differently, dont they? And, so it seems do bees and other nectar-loving creatures, even these huge wasps in the photo above.
I saw a sunbird sipping on one the other day but it was too precious a moment to disturb by going for a camera.

Who can fault such excellent packaging? Each bract tightly fitted over the flowers until its moment arrives to unfurl. The banana flower dangles like a pendant at the end of a long stalk. The fruit is found growing higher up on the stalk and after the last 'hand' or tier of bananas have formed on the bunch, farmers cut off the dangling flower and stalk. This is meant to conserve all the nutrients into developing the fruit instead of getting wasted on the now-useless flower.

Useless? No way! That flower would soon find its way to the kitchen and be transformed into a very tasty vegetable dish. Hmm, only magic or a very determined housewife could transform a flower into a vegetable!

There was just no way I could cut this one off... I couldnt reach it even if I stood on a stool! Not all my banana plants are so tall though. This is just one of my shooting stars!

Incidentally, if you're wondering why the leaf behind the flower in the photo above is all slit and tattered, blame it on the wind. Otherwise, the leaf is large and is often used at traditional meals as a plate.

Yes, you read that right. The clean leaf is cut into more manageable sizes, washed and the food is served on it. At the end of the meal, it is thrown away onto the rubbish heap to decompose and add to the fertility of the soil.

Simple! No washing dishes, or drying them, or worrying over chipping, or even silly things like matching crockery!
I found a photo in Kitchen Mishmash which is quite descriptive. Take a look!

Oh, and the leaf is also used to grill fish. The prepared fish is wrapped in banana leaf and cooked. The charred banana leaf gives such a delicious flavour to the fish that just can not be replicated without it.

I love seeing the leaf unfurling from the tight roll into a funnel and then into a broad expanse.

We cut the banana bunch when the sides of the bananas start smoothening out. When it is raw, there are thin rib-like lines running down the sides of the banana. By the time it starts ripening, this rounds out and the ribs disappear. That's when you know that it's time to cut it down. Wait too long and either the bats and crows get the fruits. Or, by the time you do cut it, the fruits start stripping off the bunch and you're left with a mess!

The banana plant will yield fruit only once so instead of cutting the bunch down, we cut the whole plant at the base . The bunch of fruit is carried off and the pseudostem is slit open to get at the core. This is again used to make curries. Very messy, and murder on the hands, but tasty in its own way.

In almost all Indian homes, a sweet, ripe banana or plantain often rounds out the heavy, spicy meals. It is excellent for digestion and for a sweet tooth too. And it looks so vibrantly colourful too.

I've got about 50 banana plants of different varieties growing in my garden. Sometimes 7-8 of them are harvested within days of each other and I go berserk trying to dispose of them. How much can one family eat?
Bunches are pressed into the hands of friends, relatives, workers and anyone who happens to visit. Recipe books are desperately consulted and tried-and-true recipes surface. Banana cakes, desserts and tea-time snacks are my stand-bys in this time of desperation. Next in line is my banana wine, potent enough to have me babbling all my secrets to anyone who'll listen. Jams and syrups are possibilities but I've never ventured there yet.

If you have a few extra bananas getting over-ripe, you may want to visit this site or this . Between them, they've got about 5000 ideas for you to decide what to do with them!


  1. I am going nuts for your Bananas! 50 varieties!!! that's huge by any standards.
    That was an excellent post. Although I too have Bananas growing in my garden, yet I couldn't have provided such a lucid description as you have.
    Your post has left me with a very very sweet after taste:-)

  2. Good morning Sunita, I love your post about the bananas. I just read quickly, I have to go shopping, groceries; I rather like to take my time to read. I have to come back and go slowly over everything you write. I love posts like this. Very interesting. I especially love the idea of using banana leafes as dishes, very aesthetic, and enviormentally friendlier. Thank you for your comment and see you again.

  3. Hi Green Thumb! I'm so glad you liked my banana-flavoured post : )
    Ummm... I dont exactly have 50 varieties of bananas. I meant 50 plants (possibly more. After 20 you stop counting!). They are of about 12 - 15 different varieties, some passed on from friends and family, others bought as tissue-cultured plants from nurseries. I'm so sorry about the mix-up.
    Which varieties do you grow? Different regions across India seem to prefer different varieties. And its quite a job trying to find an universally understood name for all our blogging friends. I have no idea what the 'elaichi' banana (the favoured variety in Mumbai )is called in other parts of the world, or even in other parts of India for that matter!

  4. Good morning to you too, Trudi! I hope you bought bananas when you went shopping.
    I know exactly what you mean about taking your time to read. I'm like that myself. So do come back when you have more time, hmm?
    If I had my way, all my posts would be long and detailed but home and family demands make me end them sooner than I would like, sometimes very abruptly when a new 'crisis' erupts : (

  5. What a fascinating plant, from the flowers, to the fruit, the the banana bread. With 50 plants, you must do a lot of experimenting with recipes. A glass of banana wine as your peruse the online recipes must make you extra creative.

  6. Hi Northern Shade! Ummm, you forgot the core of the stem ; )
    Yes, there's a lot of banana flavour in my cooking. In fact, when I met a friend after a very long time, her daughter yelled out,"hey! you're the banana pancake lady!" !!!
    I love the banana wine because its one of those recipes which makes me look like a better cook than I really am! (There I go babbling my secrets again... and I didnt even have any wine yet). Actually I'm not much of a tippler...just one glass and I doze off. How boring!

  7. Hello your comment and came here and was amazed to go through your urban gardening! Incredible! Great articles , nicely narrated with loads of info....especially this one.....I did really enjoy your page :)


  8. Thanks, Mishmash.
    I'm one of those creatures of the dark on the Indian cooking blogs ... the silent lurker! I love those very descriptive pages and the photos! OMG, the photos make me feel like such a louse for not cooking all that for my family : (
    I've never had anything to comment because frankly, cooking is not my forte. Every time I'm in the kitchen and I look out of the window, my garden calls to me ... whispering, cajoling, promising. There are seeds to sow, flowers to sniff, fruit to harvest,...
    Sigh! What can a woman do but give in? ; )
    Okay, so I'm not as bad a cook as I always fear I am, but do come back and visit. I promise to cut down on the nonsense that I babble at times : D

  9. I have a few photos of bananas, but I always wondered about the different types of flowers - I think that I was seeing male and female and not knowing the difference.
    We don't have any in the garden, but there are some around in the neighbourhood.

  10. Hi Julian! Why dont you postyour photos on your blog? I think it will be interesting, dont you?
    I found this very descriptive web page. Is this what you're seeing?

  11. I really enjoyed this post I'm not a wine drinker, but I would love to try some Banana wine! I guess I never realized how versatile bananas can be.

  12. Thanks, Kim. I think you would enjoy bannana wine. Its a lovely clear, golden coloured sweet wine.
    To truly appreciate how versatile they can be, you would need to make a visit to India, I think. We've thought up ways to incorporate them in our morning, noon, tea-time and night-time meals. And thats not including all the snacks and other nibbles that fill up in-between meals : )

  13. Hi, Sunita,

    What a great post. Your story of childhood nectaring reminded me that we used to pull a honeysuckle flower away from its calyx and drink the tiny drop of sweetness at the base of the petals. It couldn't have been as big as a the head of a pin, but it was well worth it.

    I wish I could be there to sample your banana wine.


  14. Thanks, Marta!
    The honeysuckle is something I've only read about but the very name makes it sound so quaint and delicious. Could the presence of the sweetness in it be the reason behind its name?
    Just let me know when you can come over and I'll make sure there's a bottle of banana wine ready for you : )

  15. You have a lovely blog Sunita. That banana bloom photo is great. I had a banana bloom in my garden this year and was thrilled. No bananas like yours though. That would be way cool to eat them straight from the garden. I was wondering about your gourds? Would love to see them. Also, Congrats on your nomination. What an honor.

  16. P.S. I didn't get the guess right but can I still have some banana wine:))?

  17. Thanks Tina, its great to see you here.
    How on earth did you get a banana to bloom in Tennessee? I'm a bit hazy about the kind of climate you have but if you grow blueberries, it most definitely isnt tropical, is it?
    I'll post about my gourd crafts soon. Here in India we eat gourds as vegetables but I also grow the round bottlegourds (I'm sure it has some other name but here it goes by the universal name 'doodhi' or bottle gourd) only for crafting. A lot of people think I'm nuts to let perfectly good gourds dry up instead of cooking them, but this wouldn't be the first time I'm doing something they think is plain eccentric! LOL!

  18. Just saw your p.s., Tina.
    Of course! In fact, I insist you have a glass of banana wine... followed up by a glass of pineapple wine or nutmeg wine (whichever is handy). Just to make sure you know the difference ; )

  19. Thanks! You are too kind. We are definitely temperate here in Tennessee. My banana is the Musa bajoo, Hardy Japanese Banana and I was stunned to see it bloom. Only one bloom though so no bananas. It loves it here in my garden and is hardy. I'll be looking for the gourd post. That is funny people think you are ruining perfectly good gourds! Eccentric is okay in my book:)

  20. Oh... Sunita thank you for visiting my blog and the very nice comment. You have a really great blog yourself and the latest post about your bananas..very impressive. I just wish that I could have a taste of all the varieties you have I just love bananas. I read somewhere that we swedes eat 19 kg/person per year! Have a nice day and I hope to hear more from you Sunita/ LOL Tyra

  21. Hi Tyra! I'm so glad you came over. I really enjoyed taking a look at your garden because it is as different from my tropical garden as it can get, isnt it?
    Did you get to taste all the different varieties of banana and other fruits when you went to Trivandrum (I read your comment in Kathryn's post)? Did you try the banana with the red peel? I want to get that next for my garden . I think its so colourful!

  22. Great post. Do you have a recipe or a way to prepare the flower for eating I have one almost ready now.


  23. Truly amazing photos.I only have a botanical print of Banana Palm flower and fruit that was produced by Bryan Poole a New Zealander living in London
    Top Marks

  24. Eric, if you've never cooked the banana flower before, make it easier on yourself and go to a pic-tutorial site which shows you how it is done step-by-step. Here's one :
    BTW, the sticky sap from the flower can stain like crazy so make sure you use an apron.

  25. Thanks, Iris Hunter! That's a wonderful thing to say.
    I took a look at some of Bryan Poole's work (thanks Google)... fantastic!
    I'd rather have one of his botanical prints to look at than all the bananas in my garden to eat!
    Sigh! You're luckier than you think...

  26. I wish I could grow bananas, Sunita.

    By the way, I've added a note about the non-banana kind of plantain to the comments on PICTURES JUST PICTURES . Weird, isn't it, how such different plants can share a name?


  27. This is the best piece I have read about a banana plant and its flower. Even if I know from experience all that you have mentioned, it was very interesting to learn it all again. Fantastic pictures too.

  28. Thanks, Raji. That's wonderful of you to say that.
    Frankly, I had no idea I would have so much to talk about the common banana and its flower : D

  29. Lucy,I wish I could grow conifers (seriously!) and maple trees!
    Thanks for the explanation. I was quite confused there for a minute :)

  30. gostaria de poder conseguir uma mudinha de cada tipo de banana que voçe tem ,poderia assim diversificar a minha coleçaõ de bananeiras

  31. Excuse me? I'm sorry but I just dont understand what you're saying Sannayk.

  32. I am learning about my banana trees. I enjoyed your post.

  33. PTM, I'm glad you enjoyed my post.
    (Sorry I took so long to respond but I'm not very comfortable working on a laptop as opposed to my trusty desktop which is not accessible now)

  34. i got 9 kgs of green elaichi bananas from market for me and friends .
    can you tell me ways and methods to ripen them in house naturally without chemicals like ethylene as marketers use .!
    i got them on 12-feb and thanks for your help
    Rajkumar zaparde nerul/navimumbai

  35. Rajkumar, I hope they are at least semi-ripe? If not, they will not ripen properly.
    Here's how you can make out if the bananas are ready for harvesting... the raw bananas have a pronounced 'rib' along the sides. As they ripen and fill out, these ribs smoothen until they are hardly visible. This is when we harvest the banana bunch even if it looks green. Once it is cut, one can either hang up the entire bunch to ripen or cut them into smaller 'hands' and put it away to ripen. The ripening process continues naturally even after the bunch has been cut so you don't need to do anything about it. All you really need to ascertain is whether the banana bunch was mature enough for harvesting.

    Calcium carbide is one of the chemicals most commonly used by many commercial growers and sellers. This is very harmful to health.
    Ethylene is naturally emitted by several ripening fruit, including apples and bananas. Placing a ripe apple or banana close to the ripening bunch is said to hasten the process without having to apply any artificial chemicals on the fruit. Covering both the ripe as well as ripening fruit loosely together with a newspaper or paper bag also helps.


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