This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Banana (Musa sapientum), now so popular with us, and of such common use as a highly nutritious vegetable product of the plantain tree, especially for children (who eat it with gusto), was probably an East Indian native fruit. It was cited in the sixteenth centnry as dating from Guinea, and is now cultivated everywhere throughout the tropics. Bananas have been long noted for their efficacy in correcting the fluxes to which Europeans are often subject on their first coming into the West Indies. An excellent drink is made there from the juice of the ripe fruit when fermented; likewise a marmalade which is esteemed as a pectoral of much worth, and is very refreshing. Three dozen plantains are sufficient to serve a man for a week instead of bread. Unfortunately, however, we do not get our imported Bananas in a ripe condition. Like most other tropical fruits, these have to be plucked before the sun has completed its beneficent work of converting their starch within the substance of the Bananas into sugar. Such a ripening process can only be carried to perfection whilst the fruit is still a part of its parent organism, the living plant. What is termed ripening here of the Bananas, after importation, is actually only a softening, and a step towards decay.
But few persons realise this fact with regard to our fruits in England of every kind. Dealers will meet the objection that a certain fruit under sale is not ripe, with the assurance, "Oh, it will ripen in a few days, particularly if put in a greenhouse, or in the warm sunshine".
It is true that very hard fruit may be made thus to soften, and seem mellow; indeed, it may even need such sun-bakings so as to become at all palatable; but the process is not a ripening; fruit thus treated will presently rot, and cannot be stored for the winter.
For baked Bananas, "take the fruit just after the rind has begun to grow golden; cut off each end of the pod, leaving on the jacket, after having first washed the Banana. Bake the desired number of them thus for twenty or thirty minutes in the oven, and serve them then in their jackets; to be split lengthways, and buttered when eaten" (Broadbent).
The fresh Banana contains 26 per cent of fattening, warming sustenance (carbohydrates), with an appreciable quantity of building-up material (proteid). If dried in the sun, and well sprinkled with sugar, Bananas can compare favourably in nutritive value with dried figs. Being ground into a flour, Bananas will serve for making a bread, which is light, and easy of digestion. In America the fruit, whilst unripe, is dried in the oven, and then eaten as bread, which may be kept in this condition for a long time. It has been asserted that the Banana, when largely consumed as food, produces decay of the teeth, this statement being made because the Brazilians, who live chiefly on Bananas, have, as a rule, shockingly bad teeth; but it should be remembered that their men, women, and children devour sugar also to a very unwholesome extent in the shape of sweetmeats, and confectionery of all sorts; moreover, they indulge largely in hot infusions of native tea. Already some twelve millions of Banana bunches have been exported from Jamaica alone into this country. The fruit is twenty-five times more nutritious by its starchy constituents than good white bread. A bunch of Bananas weighing fifteen pounds will yield three pounds of the flour.
As the Bananas ripen, their starch becomes converted into sugar. Their pulp contains grape sugar, cane sugar, nitrogenous matter, cellulose, and fat, with phosphoric elements, lime, earthy salts, and some iron.
To prepare a compote of Bananas: Having peeled the fruit when dead ripe - but not a speck beyond this, - and having removed any coarse threads, plunge the Bananas into boiling water for a few seconds, and then at once drain them. Put the fruit into a basin, and coat it with boiling syrup (adding, it may be, half a glass of Maraschino to the pint). When cold, dish in a pyramid, with the syrup over. For "creamed Bananas," mash them with a fork, and place this in a small saucepan; cover with a little hot milk, and add sugar, if desired; then pour it over toast. Excellent Banana sandwiches are to be made, the merest dash of honey being substituted for sugar.
The Banana is well suited for persons who cannot easily digest starchy foods. Stanley, the African traveller, found that a gruel prepared with Banana flour, and milk, was the only thing he could digest during gastric attacks. In Thoughts on the Universe, by Master Byles Gridley (0. Wendell Holmes' Guardian Angel), stands recorded the reflection, "What sweet, smooth voices the negroes have! A hundred generations fed on Bananas! Compare them with our apple-eating white folks! It won't do!"
"By reason of its fat-forming constituents being much in excess of its muscle-feeding, and nerve-nourishing proteids, the Banana,"says Dr. R. Hutchison, "is too bulky to be able to serve as the main constituent of a healthy diet; about eighty would have to be eaten daily so as to yield a proper supply of vital energy for the body. No wonder then that in tropical countries, where Bananas are largely consumed, the inhabitants are apt to show an undue abdominal development."But this computation is surely overdrawn? A barrel of sugar made from Bananas was recently exhibited in New York, the taste being pleasant, and palatable, the Banana flavour, full, and sweet in itself, conveying a really tropical impression. But the great trouble is to make this sugar perfectly dry; it can be sold much cheaper than other sugars.