I just had to share this picture. You are looking at one obscenely large plantain (starchy cooking banana), given to me last week by someone who takes pleasure in surprising me with strange fruit. Apparently it’s peak banana season in the tropical Pacific right now, and a Samoan friend, who has reached the point of what she describes as ‘annual banana saturation,’ has been using her surplus glut to educate me on this clan of fruits’ many uses in Samoan cooking. She burst into my office one morning last week brandishing this monstrosity – which caused quite a stir amongst my colleagues (including, I might add, some rather childish tittering).
In its unripe, starchy form, this variety of plantain is most popularly cooked with coconut milk and onions. I can testify first hand that however basic this may sound, it’s an excellent dish – if a touch too heavy for my everyday tastes. I’m assured that’s it’s even better with the addition of tinned tuna (my most despised of all food-stuffs). No thank you. Given time and neglect the fruit ripens to a pink-fleshed, sickly-sweet giant, with enough sugar and fibre to induce dual bouts of diarrhoea and diabetes.
While we’re on the subject, I am currently working my way through my very first crop of home-grown bananas, and they are now officially my favourite backyard fruit. I’m growing a hardy Samoan variety called Misi luki, which produces huge bunches of richly-flavoured, sugar-sweet ladyfinger-type bananas. The sticky sweetness of the flesh is nicely off-set by a slight edge of acidity, a quality so often missing from-ho-hum shop-bought bananas.
Much of the North Island is suitable for growing bananas (and possibly a few pockets of the South Island too), and the plants, with their great, flapping green leaves, bring a real tropical ambiance to the garden. Russell Franshams’ Subtropicals Nursery in Matapouri offers an excellent selection of banana cultivars to choose from, and he’s happy to ship nationwide.
I’m always on the lookout for new backyard crops – what’s your favourite?