|The 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790 -1858)|
Nearly every morning I eat a banana. We always have a cluster of bananas in our fruit bowl. Perhaps I am a banana addict. I need my fix every day.
The history of bananas is long and complicated. They originated in the Indomalayan region but there is evidence of bananas being grown in Africa and Arabia by the medieval period. Commercial plantations began to be established in the late nineteenth century and nearly all the bananas we consume today are derived from the Musa acuminata group - commonly referred to as Cavendish bananas.
Now the name "Cavendish" is very familiar in this part of the world for it is the family name of the Dukes of Devonshire who still own Chatsworh House in north Derbyshire, just nine miles from this keyboard. It was the Sixth Duke of Devonshire - William George Spencer Cavendish (1790 -1858) - who first cultivated Cavendish dessert bananas in his glass houses at Chatsworth. Their descendants can be found in vast plantations across the Carribbean and Central America but nowadays mostly in India and China which are by far the world's biggest banana producers.
Interestingly, it is thought that the term "banana" is of West African or Arabic origin - arriving in the English language via Portuguese or Spanish. You would have perhaps expected the name to have originated in the islands we now call Indonesia but that is not the case.
Though we are all very familiar with Cavendish bananas there are in fact a thousand different varieties of banana. Some are short and stubby, others are red or filled with small seeds. Others are large plantains that don't get very sweet and are used as the starchy element in main meals. They are very popular in Jamaican cuisine.
There is so much more that might be said about bananas - about their susceptibility to disease, about the different ways of cooking them, about their place in humour, about the slipperiness of their skins, about the nutrients they contain and about modern cultivation and transportation methods. But I will leave you today with one of my favourite sayings - when something seems impossible or ridiculous - "If you can get there by two o'clock then I'm a banana" or "If Manchester United beat Barcelona next week then I'm a banana" and so on. Apart from being great to eat, bananas are also endearingly silly.