Going Bananas, And Talking Fruity
These past months, just like almost everyone under quarantine I’ve been doing a lot of baking. It’s something I did way before the lockdown and have always enjoyed. There’s enough science in baking to be geeky, yet enough creativity (and touch) to make it artistic. A good combo IMO.
Recently however I’ve been focusing on banana cake, and taking things in a new direction, at least for me.
You see I used to bake banana bread quite regularly years ago, waaaay before our RVing days. In those days I used a low-carb, low-sugar recipe which was kind of our thing at the time. It was OK, but not exactly spectacular, and since then I’ve just….not baked it? It was simply one of those recipes that dropped by the way-side, forgotten with time and sent to oblivion, as such things go.
But then my eye caught some bananas in the store and suddenly I was inspired to come back to it.
So I went back to basics, approaching the whole thing from a more traditional angle, playing with the proportions and details for weeks until I was able to create the succulent, moist, outrageously-banana-rich delicacy that I had dreamt of*. It was a pleasurable experiment that also got me thinking…blog-wise.
We take so many ingredients for granted these days. We live in a world where we expect to be able to buy everything whenever we want it, irrespective of season & where those ingredients come from. Lemons are a winter fruit, yet we expect to see them in the supermarket all year. And apples only come in fall, yet we’d be shocked if we couldn’t buy them in summer.
I’m guilty of these expectations as much as the next person (although I’ve been working to become more aware, and much more seasonal in our purchases), and the recent lockdown only amplified that need. It highlighted those things that we can get locally (and should buy locally) compared to those that came from afar, and in truth we don’t really need.
But yes, once I saw those bananas in the supermarket, admittedly I gave in to temptation and went down the banana rabbit-hole….
*Banana Cake Recipe? For those interested in a near-perfect banana cake recipe, I recommend THIS one from food.com, using 4 bananas (this is key), reducing the sugar, adding a tsp of cinnamon and under-cooking it juuust a smidgen (for that extra moistness)
I Bought French Bananas
Bananas are not native to France, and yet they are still very much French.
It’s the French Antilles that are the main source here, producing more than 250,000 tonnes of the starchy fruit each year. Over 80% of that total is from Martinique which, also interestingly enough, was an island I happened to live on for a few months back in my youth. The latter is a longer story from that confusing & fuzzy time in my life I call BP (= Before Paul). Suffice to say I lived on the Island and loved my time there, well aware that all the locals spoke French, and yet never really connecting the two.
All of this goes back to the French colonial empire of course which is a long, brutal and torrid history. 13 territories remain from that time, still part of the country today. Collectively they are called la France d’outre-mer and they include several islands in the South Pacific, Indian and Caribbean Oceans, a slice of South America (French Guiana), a teeny spot in the North Atlantic just off the coast of Canada (Saint Pierre and Miquelon) and even a 6 km2 atol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (Clipperton Island). These days they all have various individual legal designations, but ultimately they all remain part of France.
So as you can see France extends well beyond the European continent which means the European Union extends there too (six of these territories are part of the EU), and in turn means we can buy bananas at our local supermarket that are technically, completely French. Quite bananas if you think about it….
Bananas Have Always Been Exotic
Of course I’ve always loved bananas.
When we lived in Asia we had access to mini-bananas (baby or Lady Finger bananas) which, if you’ve never tried them, are like super-saturated, creamy-sweet bananas in mini-form. They are intense, delicious and completely addictive. And of course Paul’s Cuban heritage means we’ve eaten masses of Plantain’s both green & ripened to black, fried with oil and salted, creating that near-perfect mix of sweet and savory that so beautifully accompanies all Caribbean-style cooking. I could live my life on those things…
But for my mom and dad who grew up in Denmark, bananas were very much a foreign thing.
During the 2nd world war they were one of the first fruits to disappear, as many overseas ingredients did during that time (including coffee**, which pains me to imagine). But that did not erase the memory of them nor the longing for their return, which remained rich and only grew in intensity with time. So when bananas finally did come back to Denmark, it was an event celebrated throughout the country.
It was November 3rd, 1945, over 5 years since the last banana had been seen in Denmark, and something spectacular was about to happen. A boat was arriving in Copenhagen late that evening, the M/S Paraguay (DFDS) laden with exotic fruit from Las Palmas, and it was reported that it would be carrying over a million bananas. A song had been written for the occasion (CLICK here to listen to it on YouTube) that promised both liberation and joy, “når der kommer en båd med bananer, så har vi glemt alle sorger og savn” (when the boat comes with bananas, we will have forgotten all sorrows and needs), and the newspapers festively declared that bananas would be distributed to all children. Everyone was on edge with excitement for the occasion.
My father who (like many kids) had never tasted a banana was swept up in the moment of it all, and decided it was the one thing he wanted for his birthday
“Jeg vil så gerne have en banan” (I so want to have a banana) he exclaimed to his mom, having no idea what that actually meant
As it turns out that first million load of bananas didn’t last long and most of Denmark, including my father would have to wait another seven years (!) until 5th May of 1952 for the next, real delivery and a taste of the exotic fruit, this time by truck from the Belgian Congo via Antwerp. They remained an expensive and exclusive item for years after, but at least Danes could finally buy bananas again.
And my dad’s experience? He did eventually get his wish, a single banana for his birthday, hidden away in a drawer and presented with great fanfare. But unfortunately it was completely green and “didn’t taste like much”, as he not-so-fondly recalls. He much prefers the ripe, yellow version these days…
**What about that coffee? For those who are curious, Danes drank something called Richs during the war, which was basically roasted corn & chicory that (apparently) tasted rather horrible, and nothing-at-all like the original. So when the first REAL coffee came to Denmark after the occupation, 6,200 sacks from Santos, Brazil delivered by boat on the 1st December of 1945, over a thousand people gathered at the port to receive it, together with a full orchestra and a live radio transmission of the occasion. Can you imagine THAT excitement??!
Other Banana Things
The other bananas that we dealt with this week was the craziness of French paperwork, a topic that I touched on in last week’s blog post.
On Friday Paul went in for his Carte De Sejour (residence card) renewal, which is always a stressful procedure in the best of times, and even more during a pandemic.
Thankfully all went well. The Préfecture had put new rules in place to control the crowds, only letting folks in by appointment one-by-one, including a recommendation that everyone wear masks. And the inch-worth of paperwork that I printed for the occasion (yes, I took a pic) was deemed adequate, Dieu merci.
Now, we just need to wait 6 weeks or so to pick up the card.
And Local Fruits
Tomorrow all things move forward. France is opening up it’s borders to it’s fellow EU neighbors, and a new phase of our COVID-19 déconfinement begins. I’m still not sure how I feel about all this or how it’s all going to progress (the virus is still out there), so we’re planning to stay more or less local at least for now, concentrating on smaller RV trips and enjoying some of the other many fruits coming out way.
It’s not a bad plan, and not much of a sacrifice to be honest.
There are no bananas in our garden, but we’ve got a ton of other delicacies ripening oh-so-deliciously in the southwestern French sun, so it’s going to be a very productive season. From Asian Pears (that surprisingly, grow really well here) to wild cherries (all over the place), grapes and mirabelle plums (a ton of them, coming soon), apples (due in fall), figs (which grow like crazy in the SW), and even almonds (also a late harvest), there are lots of fruits coming our way. At this rate we’ll be busy making jams, cakes and many other goodies for months to come, and that’s not a bad thing.
We’ll do our best to keep local, but I may still get side-tracked by a few French bananas along the way. It’s hard to resist that exotic delicacy when I see it, and I may need to try that banana cake recipe one or two more times, just to be sure I’ve got it right. A true scientist would do no less…
So my question for you this week, my dear readers (I do SO love hearing all your stories!); What fruit is the one you can’t live without? And what’s your favorite way to eat it. DO share!!!