"Yes, we have no bananas" was once a popular song but it certainly has no meaning today. America's third favorite fruit is in plentiful supply to be enjoyed fresh or used in cooking.
Probably native to tropical Asia, banana root stalks were brought to the West Indies in 1516 by a Spanish friar. Most of our supply now comes from Central America and the Caribbean where there is an abundance of rain and heat. Banana, however, comes from an African word meaning "finger." As late as the 1870s the fruit was still being sold as a curiosity in Eastern ports.
The development of steam shipping increased the transport of bananas. By the mid-1920s, with the assistance of refrigerated ships and railroad cars, bananas could be found in stores across the country.
There are several varieties of bananas, which, besides the familiar yellow color, may be red (sometimes called claret bananas) or green. One of the best known of the latter is the plantain, introduced to our cookery by Cubans and Puerto Ricans. They sometimes grow to be more than a foot long. It is not only larger but less sweet and starchier than the yellow banana and must be cooked before eating.
Bananas are one fruit that does not suffer by being picked greed for shipment. Tree-ripened bananas are dry and unpalatable. The fruit is always in season, inexpensive and appreciated for its convenience, flavor and texture. Ripe bananas are easily chewed, digested and nutritious. They contain a high percentage of carbohydrates and small amounts of vitamins A and C, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, as well as important minerals. They are low in calories, about 90 for a medium-sized banana.
Bananas can be used at any stage of ripeness and should be purchased accordingly. (Do not keep in refrigerator except to retard overripening. For green or slightly green banana room temperature is best.)
Slightly green-tipped bananas are excellent for cooking - baking, broiling or sauteing. Cooking makes partially ripe bananas fully digestible and brings our their flavor. Yellow, firm ones are good for eating and for breads and cakes. Fully ripe bananas, flecked with brown, are best for fruit cups, salads, desserts and beverages.
To keep sliced bananas from darkening sprinkle with a little lemon, orange or pineapple juice. Slice just before serving. A rough estimate for bananas is to allow three medium ripe bananas to make one cup of mashed pulp.
Some favorite American banana recipes follow: BANANA BREAD (Make 1 loaf) 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup shortening 2/3 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 cup mashed ripe bananas, 2 to 3 medium-size.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Cream shortening in a separate bowl; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients alternately with bananas, stirring to combine well. Do no beat. Turn into a greased loaf pan, 8 1/2-by 4 1/2-by-2 1/2 inches and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 1 hour, or until tester comes out clean. Let rest 5 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack. BANANA CREAM PIE (Serves 6 to 8) 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 cups milk 2 egg yolks 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 baked 9-inch pie shell 2 to 3 ripe bananas Whipped cream (optional)
Combine sugar, salt and flour in top part of a double boiler. Gradually add milk and cook slowly, stirring almost constantly, over boiling water until thickened and smooth. Beat egg yolks lightly in a bowl. Add a little of the hot milk mixture and return to double boiler. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, over hot water about 2 minutes, until quick thick.
Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Cool. Slice bananas diagonally and put one layer in baked pie shell. Cover with some of cream mixture. Repeat layers to use all of cream mixture. Just before serving, top with a ring of bananas slices and decorate center with whipped cream, if desired. BANANA FRITTERS (Serves 4 to 6) 1 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup sugar 1 egg 1/3 cup milk 2 teaspoons melted shortening 3 ripe bananas Flour for coating Fat or vegetable oil for frying
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a bowl. Combine egg, milk and shortening and add to dry ingredients. Mix well to make a stiff batter. Peel bananas and remove "strings." Cut each into about 6 diagonal pieces. Roll in flour, shake off any excess. Dip into batter to completely coat. Fry in hot deep fat (375 degrees on frying thermometer) until golden, turning once or twice, about 4 minutes. Serve at once, dusted with confectioners' sugar if desired.