Let’s Go Bananas!

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This week, in preparation for lecturing on American imperialism (and food, of course) around the turn of the last century, I read up on the traditional and religious practice of “kapu” in Hawaiian culture.  Kapu was a series of regulations that structured daily life and relationships; it means “forbidden,” and to keep kapu one had to observe various rules – one of which was a strict injunction against women eating certain foods, including coconuts, several kinds of fish, pork, and (gasp! sob!) bananas.  In fact, if a woman was caught eating one of these off-limits items she was immediately put to death. They weren’t messing around. The first American missionary women on their way to Hawaii in late 1819 were nervous they might unwittingly break kapu and meet an untimely end — a fear they described in letters written during a 5-month journey of sea (and home) sickness on a crowded, dilapidated boat. The missionaries were understandably relieved when, upon arrival, they heard that kapu had recently been abolished. King Liholiho, son of Kamehameha I, surprised his royal guests at a feast in November 1819 by eating at the women’s table, a move that broke kapu and led to an islands-wide crumbling of tradition. Bananas probably weren’t the most important item on Hawaiian women’s kapu list, but I can only imagine the joy of being able to eat bananas!  I wonder how many risked their lives to taste this incredible fruit?  

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island (okay, wait, maybe even then), you have probably heard that bananas are chock-full of potassium.  Why is potassium necessary, you ask? Well, you only need it if you’re interested in, oh, I don’t know .  . . your heart continuing to beat.  Potassium also helps stabilize your blood pressure and keeps you alert. But, wait, bananas aren’t called a super-food for nothing!  Besides respectable amounts of fiber, vitamin B6, and pectin, the tryptophan in bananas helps fight the funk (depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder) as it is converted into seratonin (bam!).  That’s not all. (Do you feel like you’re watching an infomercial yet?)  Bananas are the only fruit you can eat raw that won’t exacerbate ulcers and actually soothes your tummy after indigestion or the flu.  Some banana enthusiasts claim this fruit can lessen the pain of bug bites (rub inside of peel on the bite), eliminate warts (simply tape a piece of the inner peeling on the wart – not at all awkward), and even lower your risk of contracting kidney cancerHoly banana bread, Batman!

Because bananas are grown in tropical climates, it clearly takes a lot of energy (think carbon footprint) to get them to most parts of the United States. Produced on huge farms, banana production has seriously impacted native environments and populations. Always make sure you’re buying fair-trade, organic bananas and not those packaged in plastic. Even better, if your geography supports it, plant your own banana tree. Wouldn’t this be lovely?

One of my favorite ways to get my banana fix is in a simple smoothie Genevieve calls “Banana Twirl:”

  • 1 cup (approximately) frozen banana chunks
  • 1 T smooth peanut butter (optional)
  • 1 T cocoa powder (optional)
  • 1 cup almond/coconut/soy milk
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • few pieces of ice
  • 1 t. cinnamon

1. Blend all ingredients until smooth and ice-cream like. So delicious. Of course you can add any other fruits, ground flax seeds, or nuts you have on hand, too.  Try presenting this as dessert in fancy cups with straws for your kids, they may be convinced it’s a real milkshake!

Best. Banana. Bread. Ever. (adapted from Post Punk Kitchen) ❤

*Makes 2 large loaves (yes, you’ll want extra!)

  • 1 1/2 cups margarine (Earth Balance sticks are the best)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3 t. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup almond/soy milk + 3 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 t. cinnamon
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 9 ripe bananas, smashed and smooshed
  • 1 1/2 t. sea salt
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two large loaf pans. Put milk and vinegar in a measuring cup, set aside. 

2. In a large bowl, mix margarine and sugars, add in vanilla, milk/vinegar mixture, and bananas. Stir in flours, salt, and baking soda. (Don’t over mix, but make sure you aren’t leaving swaths of flour and baking soda throughout, either.)  Add in nuts and/or chocolate chips. 

3. Divide batter evenly between loaf pans, lick beaters and bowl (come on, you know you want to), and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

(You can also make this lower fat by using 1/2 the amount of margarine or oil and adding 3/4 cup applesauce.)

Warning: This bread is addictive. Make sure you have others around with whom to share! 🙂  

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