Time for a break from coffee. Going bananas!

Do you know how to “pick” bananas? See my husband in the bottom left of the photo? He’s the little, light blue thing that stands six feet tall.

Hint: no ladder or heavy equipment is required.

banana trunk

Most of us refer to bananas growing on trees or palms, but they aren’t trees or palms. They’re banana plants, a perennial herb with succulent, juicy stems that arise from a fleshy corm. New leaves push up from growing points on the corm below the ground. The banana “tree” is a pseudo-stem or trunk and is not woody. Notice the cut trunk in the photo. It consists of all the leaf stalks furled around each other, and the leaves emerge from the center. The flower also debuts from the middle and finally turns into a bunch of bananas.

Once the trunk produces fruit, it will never produce fruit again. So you harvest bananas by cutting the trunk, the “tree.” There are other pups or suckers that grow from other growing points on the corm near the main trunk. Those will grow to give you more bananas. To keep your grove manageable, it’s best to cut and remove the fruiting trunk. Our grove has productive and unproductive trunks. The old trunks are still useful as part of a living sound and sight barrier.

My husband has perfected his harvesting technique. The goal is to have the trunk slowly fall so the fruit won’t slam from its height down to the ground. He cuts as high as he can reach, and cuts about 2/3 through the trunk on the opposite side that he wants the trunk to fall. He watches what happens. He might then make a couple of more cuts lower down, so that the trunk bends or articulates at the cut locations. Don’t wear any clothes you care about when you do this job. Banana juice/sap stains dark brown.

This time the bananas to harvest were on a trunk inside the grove. My husband Rune is inside there, cutting as high as he can. There are a few spindly coffee trees in the foreground; bananas do dominate their space.

Once the trunk was cut, it was still propped up by trunks in front of it. This one had to be cut to let the desired trunk fall. Conveniently, it fell right on our huge compost pile of mostly felled banana trunks.
Hawaiian hawk ('io)
At this point, we were delighted when a Hawaiian hawk (‘io) flew on to our banana plants. We watched it until it flew away. When we later confirmed the type of bird, I learned that it was only removed from the endangered list in 2020! They are only found on the Big Island. (If we hadn’t brought the good camera down to document banana harvesting, we wouldn’t have been able to get such a good photo.)
After the bananas were harvested, he still had to clean out that felled trunk.

By the way, it happened to rain the whole time we were out with the bananas. It is hard work for the harvester, but most of that moisture on his t-shirt is rain not sweat.

Here’s the previous harvest on New Year’s Day. The photo shows two stalks of apple bananas, with the stalks partially divided. A definition of banana parts would be useful here: “A single banana is called a finger. A grouping of attached “fingers” make up a “hand” of bananas. Multiple hands that grow in a cluster are called a bunch or stalk—a bunch of bananas may contain 3 to 20 hands!” (from https://kids.sandiegozoo.org/stories/go-bananas)

What do we do with so many bananas? Mostly share! Most family & friends do their part and will usually accept a hand or two. Many eat them, and many make banana muffins or bread or dehydrate them. Still, we had two big hands that ripened pretty rapidly. This time we wanted to try making banana ketchup! It’s apparently a popular condiment in the Philippines.

We like it! It reminds us a bit of tamarillo (tree tomato) chutney more than tomato ketchup. We like tamarillo chutney with lamb chops. In any case, the next part of experimentation involves discovering what goes well with banana ketchup. We think probably pork, chicken, fish, burgers, and breakfast potatoes.

I’m on the Hunter Family’s fish list. On Friday afternoons, I receive a text stating what fish they caught and what I can order to pick up the next morning at the Keauhou Farmer’s Market. Yesterday I picked up ono and some bok choy. For dinner we had rice, bok choy, a few slices of leftover baked ube (purple sweet potato), and broiled ono (that was basted in shoyu, butter, salt & pepper). The ketchup was a nice condiment with the ono and the ube.

Here’s our ketchup recipe, adapted from Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbeque by Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe. We made it more Hawaiian and did some tweaks.

Banana Ketchup

2 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp peanut butter
1 small sweet Maui onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (next time we’ll try some fresh turmeric root)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
6 ripe apple bananas, mashed (we’ll note total weight next time, since bananas can vary a lot in size)
1/2 c white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp kiawe honey
2 Tbsp Koloa Kaua’i dark Hawaiian rum
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil.
Add the peanut butter, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger.
Cook about 6 minutes until the onion is translucent.
Add turmeric and allspice; cook for 1 minute.
Add bananas and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to simmer.
Cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring often.
Remove from heat to cool.
When cool, blend in food processor or blender.
Serve at room temperature.
Store in airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

One thought on “Time for a break from coffee. Going bananas!

  1. Loved reading your article on bananas. Years ago, we used to have a number of apple banana trees in our backyard. We loved sharing the fruit w/our family. Never bought bananas from the market for years. Then, a bug of some type took over and it was widespread. We lost our trees. Keep your trees healthy.


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