Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Banana Figs, Banana Flour, Banana Coffee …. ?

One of the first things I do when a new topic presents itself is to go to the Oxford English Dictionary. I am not necessarily usually looking for a definition, because often this is obvious, but for hints as to origins and usages, or an interesting quote, or a new reference text. Take figs, for example. Everyone knows what figs are, right? So why go to the dictionary? Because there one can find out that in some parts of the world (the West Indies), a ‘fig’is not from the genus’Ficus, but from the genus Musa, that is, it is a banana, and that it may also be the fruit of Nopalea cochenillifera (the cochineal cactus.)

Even where the banana is a banana, there are ‘banana figs.’ Banana figs are bananas prepared in the manner of figs – that is, they are dried bananas. A related idea is the nineteenth century recipe for ‘Tomato Figs’ which are tomatoes preserved in the manner of figs – which is to say, put up in a syrup.

There was a great deal of interest on the part of banana growers in Queensland and New South Wales in the early decades of the twentieth century in possible products that might be made from the highly perishable fruit. There were numerous articles in regional newspapers on the subject, and I give you a brief selection to show you some of the ideas that were being discussed at the time.

From the Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW) in 1903:

The Versatile Banana.
New uses are being found for the banana - that valuable plant which will produce 44 times as much human food to an acre of land as can be obtained from an equal area in the shape of potatoes.
One of the latest novelties is "banana coffee," which is made by drying the fruit and subjecting it to a process of roasting, after granulating it. It tastes a good deal like real coffee, and, like many preparations of the kind evolved from cereals, is recommended as devoid of the harmfulness commonly attributed to the true coffee are "banana figs" and "banana raisins," which are appetising bits of the fruit prepared with sugar. They arc put up in boxes and sold as sweetmeats.

From The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW) in May 1902:

The young shoots cooked make a palatable vegetable, while the fruit boiled in its earlier green stage is a really excellent addition to any dinner. A pleasant drink, something after the style of cider, is also obtained from the banana by expressing and fermenting the juice.

From the Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW) May 1902:
Banana bread has been voted excellent, and is now made in Chicago, and might just as well be made in London; or, for the matter of that, in any other place, could the flour be obtained reasonably. When one remembers that there are large areas of the globe where famine is more or less periodic, such as parts of Russia and India, and that pessimistic calculations of the insufficiency of the world's supply of wheat are occasionally indulged in, it is perhaps not altogether foolish to take into consideration the possibility of obtaining a cheap, bountiful, and nutritive breadstuff from the banana. Indeed, it is not too much to assert that banana flour, as well as banana fibre, may be reckoned among the sources of supply, at present untapped, which an ever-increasing population, with incessantly-growing demands, may thankfully turn to in the future, to supply its needs.

From the Evening News (Sydney, NSW  ) Nov 17, 1906:

Banana Cocoa. A Chance For Australia.
“A cup of banana cocoa, please!” The waitress at your favorite Cafe may stare today when the request is preferred to her. Tomorrow she may take your order as unconcernedly as for a glass of milk; Banana cocoa is the last novelty on the English market, and as soon as the public gets to know that it cannot only eat bananas, but drink them, there is likely to be a vogue for the new preparation. Banana cocoa is made of banana flour and cocoa, looks just like ordinary cocoa has a flavor suggestive of both, and costs 6d a tin. Banana bread has, of course, been some tim on the market, and a certain popularity has already been built up for it. The principal feature of the bread is that it does not become dry after keeping. A pound contains more nourishment and energy-producing material than one pound of the best beefsteak. Banana flour, which makes bread of a golden color, is manufactured from dried bananas, and the taste recommends it to the British public. It was manufactured in Queensland for some time, and the new demand should give Australia a fair chance in the industry.

From the Mullumbimby Star (NSW) March 31, 1921

A few specialties made from dried bananas are:- Banana flour for bread, blancmange powder, ice-cream powder, infants food, cake powder, coffee, cocoa, custard powder, jelly crystals, health salts. The Tweed River dried bananas make excellent banana cake and pastry flour. Lovely scones, rice buns, and madeira cakes are made from the dried banana flour.

We will have a little more on banana flour tomorrow, but for today, I give you a recipe for a rather unusual banana dish, from the Evening News (Sydney, NSW) 9 June, 1924.

Banana Omelette.

Required: 4 bananas, 5oz of butter or margarine, 4 eggs. 1 tablespoonful of water, salt, pepper, cayenne. Peel the bananas, and cut them into slices. Melt 1 oz. of butter In a pan, and when hot add the bananas, and toss over the fire for about 8 minutes; sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Beat- up the eggs, season, add the water. Melt the second ounce of butter in an omelette pan, and when quite hot put In the egg mixture, stir over the fire twice, then when just setting, put the bananas in the centre, fold over, turn on to a hot dish, and serve at once.

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