Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shop Bananas.

April 10 ...

Window-shopping took on a whole new meaning on this day in 1633 in Holborn (London), when Thomas Johnson put a strange new fruit on display. Johnson, the man who edited Gerard’s Herball, had come by a banana plant which had survived the journey from the Bahamas. He hung up the stalk with its strange ‘hand’, and the general public were able to watch it ripen over the next few weeks. Johnson recorded the event:

"Aprill 10. 1633. my much honored friend Argent (now President of the Colledge of Physitions of London) gave me a plant he received from the Bermuda's: the length of the stalke was some two foot; the thicknesse thereof some seven inches about, being crested, and full of a soft pith, so that one might easily with a knife cut it asunder. It was crooked a little, or indented, so that each two or three inches space it put forth a knot of some halfe inch thicknesse, and some inch in length, which incompassed it morre than halfe about; and upon each of these joints or knots, in two rankes one above another, grew the fruit, some twenty, nieteene, eithteene, &c. mor or lesse, at each knot: for the branch I had, contained nine knots or divisions, and upon the lowest knot grew twenty [fruits], and upon the uppermost fifteene. The fruit which I received was not ripe, but greene, each of them was about the bignesse of a large Beane; the length of them some five inches, and the bredth some inch and halfe...
This stalke with the fruit thereon I hanged up in my shop, were it became ripe about the beginning of May, and lasted until June: the pulp or meat was very soft and tender, and it did eate somewhat like a Muske-Melon...This Plant is found in many places of Asia, Africke, and America, especially in the hot regions: you may find frequent mention of it amongst the sea voyages to the East and West Indies, by the name of Plantaines, or Platanus, Bannanas, Bonnanas, Bouanas, Dauanas, Poco, &c.
Some (As our Author hath said) have judged it the forbidden fruit; other-some, the Grapes brought to Moses out of the Holy-land."

There was a brief flurry of excitement in 1999 when an ancient-looking banana was found at an archeological dig beside the Thames. It was found amongst some Tudor artefacts, suggesting that a banana had made it to England a century and a half earlier than the one Johnson received. Alas! Eventually it turned out to be a 1950’s banana, and no-one, absolutely no-one, could be interested in a 1950’s banana.

Bananas are soft, and they ripen quickly – two serious impediments to importation, so they did not become common and affordable in Europe until the late nineteenth century. Americans, being closer to the source (the Caribbean) were luckier, and such early banana recipes as there are are to be found in American cookbooks. I give you two today: the salad excites me not at all, but I think the tart could be delicious, especially with its hot custardy sauce.

Banana and Celery Salad:
Chill heart celery and very ripe bananas, slice thin crosswise, mingling the rounds well. Pile on lettuce leaves, and cover with French dressing, into which finely grated cheese has been scantly stirred. This dressing with cheese is fine for tender Romaine, also for almost any sort of cooked vegetable used as salad.
[Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South, 1913]

Damson and Banana Tart:
Line an agate or earthen pie dish two to three inches deep, with very good crust, rolled thin, but not stretched nor dragged. Cover it with bananas, sliced thin, lengthwise, strew over three tablespoonfuls of sugar, and a pinch of grated lemon peel. Sprinkle with a liqueur glass of rum or brandy or whiskey, then put in a layer of preserved plums - damsons are best - along with their juice. If there is room repeat the layers - bananas and plums and seasoning. Cover with a crust rolled fairly thin, prick and bake three-quarters of an hour in a moderately quick oven. Serve either hot or cold, preferably hot, with this sauce. One egg beaten very light, with a cupful of cream, a wineglass of rum, brandy or sherry, and a larger glass of preserve syrup. Mix over hot water, stirring hard all the time till it begins to thicken. It must not get too thick.
[Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South, 1913]

Tomorrow’s Story …

The Monk’s Choice.

Quotation for the Day …

One man's poison ivy is another man's spinach. George Ade.

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