Tally me bananas
Daylight come an’ me wan’ go home.
from The 2nd Raffi songbook : 42 songs from Raffi's albums
piano arrangements by Catherine Ambrose
design and illustration by Joyce Yamamoto
Crown Publishers, 1986
Also watch live performances on YouTube (if you love Raffi)
Ever since my mom fed me solid food, bananas were on my rejection list. I spit them out every time. There’s not much that I hate, especially when it comes to food, but bananas—yuck! I don’t like the smell, the texture, or mostly the taste, but I love the color. All my grandkids think this is the funniest thing! How can yellow be my favorite color when I hate bananas? They’re yellow! I don’t know, is the answer they always get.
My oldest grandson’s favorite color is green. He loves everything green except green beans, okra, spinach, pretty much all the green vegetables.
When he was really young, maybe 5 or 6, I had an idea. I told him I’d take a very small bite of a banana if he’d try a green bean. He ate his green bean and waited patiently for me to live up to my end of the bargain. Boy, was that hard. The smell. The squishy-ness. The awful anticipation.
I took the smallest nibble I could get away with. YUCK! It was the first time in my life (and the last!) that I actually swallowed a banana, a microscopic bit to be sure, but still.
So why should I care that bananas might go extinct?
The demise of the banana would effect the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries. Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala all depend heavily on their exports of bananas. For export, these countries and virtually all other exporters grow the Cavendish variety exclusively. It is the only kind you find at the grocery store.
But that was not always true. Before the Cavendish replaced it, most of the banana exports were the Gros Michel variety. Most people thought the Gros Michel was tastier than the Cavendish. It was definately more difficult to bruise. But in the 1950s, a strain of banana wilt hit the crop so hard that a banana emergency was announced. The Gros Michel variety was declared commercially extinct in 1965. Commercial extinction is when a particular species is so depleted that it is no longer profitable to harvest.
The fuel for the helicopters and fixed-wing planes used to spray fungicide and the fungicide itself harm our environment. Pulling off the affected leaves and burning them can (and does sometimes) promote fungal spread by sending airborne some particles that find their way to unaffected areas. The disease that started in Central America quickly spread to most of the world’s commercial banana plantations. There was no choice but to destroy whole plantations.
And so the replacement. Cavendish bananas at first seemed resistant to the fungus that wiped out Gros Michel. But now the Cavendish banana is the only species currently being produced commercially, and now it is threatened by a different strain of the same fungus, Panama Black Sigatoka, that thrives in hot, humid conditions.
Bananas are the most popular fruit in the world and rank 4th in commodity exports after rice, wheat, and milk. World banana trade totals $2.5 billion annually. An acre of land on a banana plantation can yield 30,000 pounds (15 tons) of bananas per year. With over 1,000 types of bananas, the global market is made up of Cavendishes, exclusively. Cavendish bananas are clones. They are genetically identical. New banana plants are cultivated from an existing root or propagated from a “pup,” a small shoot near the bottom of the plant. They don’t have seeds.
Wild bananas *do* have seeds. Black, inedible, unappetizing seeds. Here’s the inside of a typical wild banana. (Scroll about 1/2 way down)
Countries that grow Cavendish for export grow some of the other varieties for consumption at home. Some are too fragile to ship. Others ripen too fast to survive the journey.
Research scientists are working on a grafting technique that could save the Cavendish. Banana trees lack an internal tissue called the vascular cambium. It is this tissue, from two different plants, that fuse together to propagate a new plant. Now scientists are doing a work-around by grafting the seeds and roots of a banana plant instead for the propagation. If it proves successful, a fungus-resistant banana could be in our, well make that your, future.
My family likes bananas. When the kids come to visit, I buy bananas for them to snack on or add to their oatmeal. They like banana pancakes, but that’s a step too far for me. Most of the time, one or two bananas are leftover. I peel them and stick them in the freezer till I have enough for banana bread. Here’s the banana bread recipe from my old Settlement Cookbook. (Simon and Schuster, 1965)
(Almost) everyone loves it! We mark up our recipes. This one has a happy face, a star, and “yum!” next to it.
2 cups sifted flour (I have never sifted flour. The recipe is fine with
flour straight from the bag.)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (I only ever use real butter.)
1/2 cup sugar
2 medium ripe bananas (if you use them from your freezer, let them
thaw first. Use the liquid.)
1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk (I use what I have, usually almond milk and add 1/2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice.)
Sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, mashed bananas, and milk. Gradually add flour mixture to dry ingredients. When well blended, pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake 350 F for 1 hour. Toothpick or butter knife will come out clean when it’s done. May be doubled.
-—stay curious! (and try something new)