Chances are you’ll go ape over today’s food holiday, but I’m not monkeying around one bit when I say it’s real a-peeling. August 27 is National Banana Lover’s Day!
It’s also National Pot de Crème Day. But, c’mon…how can I celebrate something I can’t even pronounce?! (Poh-deh-krem, for the record. It’s a French (duh) custard that translates to “pot of cream” because it’s baked in a ramekin). Sounds rich, and I’m sure it’s good, but we shy away from desserts whenever possible because there are so damn many of them. Besides, who doesn’t love bananas?!
Just like money, bananas don’t grow on trees. They are actually produced by a plant known as the musa acuminata – the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world. It was named for Antonius Musa, the personal physician of Roman emperor Octavius Augustus, who was responsible for cultivating the exotic African fruit from 63 to 14 B.C., predating even rice. Acuminata means “assume nothing,” which is a polite way of saying, “when you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” Actually, that’s not true. It really means “long-pointed” or “tapering” and refers to the flowers of the plant, not the fruit. Which happens to be long-pointed and tapering, as well.
Portugese sailors brought bananas from West Africa to Europe in the 15th century, and the Guinean name banema caught on, eventually morphing into banana in English. Even though bananas were discovered in Africa, they’re actually native to Southeast Asia, where many wild and exotic varieties grow. Spanish missionary Friar Tomas de Berlanga introduced them to North America.
Bananas were originally red or green. The sweet yellow variety we are used to was actually a mutant strain, discovered by Jean Francois Poujot in 1836. One day he discovered a tree on his Jamaica plantation bearing yellow fruit instead of red or green, and when he tasted it, was pleasantly surprised by the sweet flavor and began cultivating those. When bananas were first served in U.S. restaurants, they were considered exotic treats, and were eaten on a plate using a fork and knife.
Plantains and bananas are essentially the same; in Southeast Asia, no distinction is made between the two. Other countries consider bananas to be the soft, sweet “dessert” variety we are used to, while plantains refer to the firmer, starcher cooking variety.
We could have done virtually anything to celebrate Banana Lover’s Day, but decided to keep it simple. Tara had hers plain, and I sliced mine and added it to a bowl of Rice Krispies. There’s something about that combination I’ve always loved.
And, the day is still young. There may yet be more bananas in our future!