Monday, 9 February 2009

Peeking At Pika: La Banane

B is for Banane - Fig* - Banana

When is a tree not a tree....when it is a banana tree, which is in fact a plant, to be more precise the world's largest herb!

*We wondered why the creole chose to call them fig when they are nothing like figs but then discovered that in english they are called fingers so maybe there is a link there...

This has been such a complicated subject for me, I am only just getting my head around it now, after five visits to the West Indies! Bananas back in the UK are very straightforward - the only question for debate is fair trade or not, and now even that is resolved by shopping at Sainsburys. However, here there are many different varieties and names and ways of cooking and eating so it is helpful for me to have it all written down at last.

Firstly a bit on the banana tree itself. Thanks to Mamie and Bertie for taking the time out of their work to explain it to me several times last week!

The banana tree takes about six months to grow from a tiny plant to producing its one and only bunch of bananas. At some point during this period, small banana trees will begin to grow out of the root. These will then grow and produce their own bunches (regime) whilst the original tree will die once the bunch has been cut off and its stem will rot down.

Here are the new shoots coming through

Can you see here the new shoot on the right and the original (mummy) banana tree in the centreThis is what the stem looks like once its bunch has been cut off and it starts to rot awayYou can see here two trees still growing and their mummy trees in the centre which are now rotting away
The tree produces a purple flower, the banana heart, and the bananas begin growing inside. Courtesy of Mum
Courtesy of Mum

Gradually this drops down and the bananas develop at the top. As the bananas reach maturity, they usually have a blue plastic bag placed around them to protect them from hungry birds. Then when it is ready, the bunch is cut off above and below the bananas (the flower may well have dropped off by now) and taken off to sell or eat. They will still be green at this point and will ripen (all at more or less the same time) after several days.

At Pika they now grow four types (they used to grow a red one but not anymore):

We know it as plantain but it is known here as banane plantain or banane jaune or even banane blanc if you are speaking to Mamie! The creole is plantin. It is a larger more starchy fruit. At Pika they grow next to Bertie's bit of land.

You can see a bunch of plantain here growing on the tree then some we had at home that began green before ripening yellow. It looks mouldy but they are perfectly fine to eat! Top centre is a banane jumelle (you can see the split) which contains two bananas.

Cooking plantain - it is NOT eaten green and it is NOT eaten raw! When it is yellow, it is boiled in its skin and eaten as a starch with various dishes here. When it gets to the black yellow colour that you see above, it is much sweeter and great for frying - remember Bertie's delicious dessert of fried plantain and ice cream and chocolate sauce....ummm!

Next is what we would class as bananas (or green cooking bananas) but here they are known as poyo or banane verte when they are green and then figue when they are yellow. These are the bananas grown for exporting. Here they are on the tree (they grow down in the fond next to the stream) and then waiting to be sold at Mamie's.However, if they get to the yellow stage they get passed on to us!
Cooking - these are ONLY cooked when green and NOT in their skins. One of Mamie's special dishes from her home island of Marie-Galante is made with diced poyo. When they turn yellow they are enjoyed as normal eating bananas or put into delicious cakes, tarts etc.

Banane poto are fatter, shorter bananas and much rarer. You can see from the photo how they are almost angular in shape. They have a very sweet taste and like poyo can be eaten cooked when green (remove skins) or as dessert bananas when they are ripe.
Here is a ripe bunch on the right of this picture
Courtesy of Mum
What I found classed as ripe dessert bananas are here referred to as figue-pomme. These are quite fragile and don't travel well so they are not usually imported. They are NOT cooked, but kept until yellow and the skins are beginning to split when they can be enjoyed as a sweet dessert banana.

You can see the bunch of figue pomme growing (very high up!) and how far down its purple flower has gone.
And finally the banana leaf! Apparently in some countries these are eaten but here Bertie said he just knows of one dish with sweetcorn where it is wrapped in the leaf. They are very pretty though, don't you think!
Good for you

Bananas are full of good stuff, including potassium, iron, phosphore, calcium, and vitamins A and B, as well as being rich in fibre. Cooked plantain is higher on the nutritional scale in vitaims but similar in protein and fibre.
Not so good for the environment...

There was an interesting article on ekopedia about the harm that banana production does to the environment: monoculture means that the land which should be used for growing other produce is not, and therefore requires more basic produce to be imported. It is also accompanied by deforestation and a high use of pesticides, which is not healthy for the land or the worker. Banana production is worker-intensive and often the worker is not treated fairly or paid well. Not to mention the process that bananas go through to reach Europe and North America in optimum condition! At least we don't have to worry about that here!

The solution...go fair trade (and organic if possible)! Or else move over to Guadeloupe and enjoy the abundance of delicious bananas that come out of Pika!
Sources: ekopedia wikipedia Bertie Mamie

Photos: Pika unless otherwise stated


Mum said...

What a lot of information Heather - thats a brilliant article.
I saw the plastic bags that time we went to Basse Terre.
Sainsburys are selling little bananas 'suitable for children's lunch boxes'. I thought you said they were petites bananes.
I was pleased to see some of my photos - yours are very good too!
Now I am wondering if next week will be cithère or caramboles...
I had a nice day at Romford today with Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!
Didn't realise there was so much I didn't know about bananas!
Yve x

Mum said...

I wonder if a slice of that rotting trunk would be any good for making prints?
I've been looking at RFO Guadeloupe and wonder what
Lyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon is ?
doing a lot of wondering as you can see!!

Hevs said...

I came across what might well be the little bananas but I forget what it was nice. Oops, I had forgotten cithere - but you have forgotten at least 2 other c's so get guessing...!
It is a lot of info - God's creation is fearfully and wonderfully made! I find I appreciate wandering around Pika lots more now that I have a better knowledge of the inmates and all it took to get them there.
The LKP is L'alliance contre exploitation and it is the overall name for all the different syndicats involved in the strike. It is amazing how unified people can be when they are motivated!

Mum said...

Oh yes - christophine, and the one you mentioned above that they use for a musical instrument...
is there yet another?
what exactly do you mean when you say 'all it took to get them there'?
Did papy buy the land or was it in the family?

Mum said...

have thought of some more 'c' s for next week: canne, cocotier - no thats the tree, coconut, cerise pays, carrots which should be ready by now, cives, canneles.
And so it continues!
I made a comment re your kitchen - 8th Feb. Just saw it. And i like your new cooking pot.

Hevs said...

Stop stop enough now! I hadn't thought of most those c's so I see that I have my work cut out! Though we don't have any christophines and conch is a sea shell so I am spared those!
All it took to get them there, I meant how they grew. But Papy bought the land off a relative in 1959 when it was covered in sugar cane so he has grown everything there.