Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cheating and eating.

Today, January 31st …

On this day in 1961, a primate of the chimpanzee family was sent to test the dangers of space before a primate from the human family was risked out there. The chimp’s name was Ham, after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Centre, and this story is not about cured meat from the porcine family, it is about bananas. Sort of.

Ham not only did not die, get space germs, or go bananas (Sorry!) he completed his work well, and was rewarded with banana pellets. The first human to eat in space was John Glenn a little over a year later, and he ate applesauce out of an aluminium tube. So far all of this space-eating seems particularly apt, don’t you think? Bananas for the chimp, apples for the American. Well, I want it known that Ham got cheated. “Banana pellets” do not contain banana. The phrase refers to precision food pellets made specifically as training rewards for animals, so in Ham’s case they would have been made from basic “Monkey Chow”.

The banana’s extreme perishability meant that it was an expensive delicacy in Europe until transport methods improved in the 1920’s. They soon became cheap enough to languish in long enough in the fruit bowl to become spotty and squishy – in other words, good enough for banana cake.

The following recipe for banana cake, from the American Mrs. Rorer’s “New Cook Book” (1902), is often quoted as being the first. It is another cheat: it sounds very odd, it may even be delicious, but it aint cake!

Banana Cake
Beat to a cream a quarter of a cup of butter, add a half cup of sugar and one egg; when very light, stir in enough flour to make a stiff dough; roll into a thin sheet and line a square, shallow baking pan. Peel five good, ripe bananas, and chop them very fine; put them over the crust in a pan, sprinkle over a half cup of sugar, the pulp of five tamarinds soaked in a quarter of a cup of warm water; squeeze over the juice of two Japanese oranges, put over a tablespoonful of butter cut into pieces, a saltspoonful of mace, and two tablespoonfuls of thick cream. Grate over the top two small crackers, bake in a moderate oven a half hour, and cut into narrow strips to serve.

Grate crackers over the top??

Tomorrow: Dishes for the deserted.

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