When we bought our home on Anna Maria Island ten years ago, we did not know what was in store for us. There were a few unpleasant surprises, such as termites, but most of the surprises were good ones. For example, the delicious flavor of the bananas that were growing along our property line.
I’ve written before about these bananas. We continue to enjoy the delicious fruit they produce. Although we usually get fruit in summer, for some reason we have lots of fruit forming on the trees as Christmas approaches. What a wonderful surprise gift to us during the holidays.
Our bananas are extremely tasty, perhaps because they contain three kinds of sugar: sucrose, fructose and glucose. But this is healthy food, too … an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and fiber.
The first sign that fruit is on the way is the large, deep red banana flower that grows out on a stalk from the plant. Behind the flower, a bunch of bananas eventually forms. One bunch is made up of a series of “hands,” which is the usual unit in which we find store-bought bananas. The bananas that grow in our yard are much smaller than store-bought, and there are more of them in a hand. The skin is thinner, so the fruit is actually bigger than one might expect, based on commercial bananas with their thick skin.
But the most wonderful difference between our bananas and store-bought is the amazing flavor. It was described by my elderly father as tasting like banana with additional fruit flavors, such as strawberry. It is, indeed, a complex flavor and very sweet if one waits long enough before eating them. In researching different kinds of bananas, it’s not clear which kind we have, but I think it’s likely that it’s the Manzano banana. This is described as having strawberry and apple as part of the flavor. Furthermore, the Manzano is ripe when the skin turns black. Although we do not usually wait that long, we have noticed that it’s necessary to wait a long time before these bananas taste their best. The Manzano is described as being short and stubby. But there is another small variety often called “baby” or “nino,” and this also could be what we have in our yard.
Timing of when to harvest the bananas is slightly tricky, because people are not the only creatures who love these tropical delicacies. The longer the bananas stay on the stalk, the plumper they become. But the more likely they are to be sampled by the general animal public. Fortunately, even when they are picked very early, very green and small, they still usually ripen to have a good flavor. We have found that once the bananas turn deep yellow, it’s good to wait an additional few days before peeling and eating them.
Because they can be successfully picked while still green, we have shipped bananas to friends in the north. Usually with very good results. It would be fun to ship some of our now-ripening bananas up north, as a tropical Christmas gift. However, one time, the report was that the fruit had spoiled. This was enough to stop us from shipping again, because these bananas are just too special to risk losing. So we now share them with people in our immediate vicinity.
As a large banana tree grows, it sends up small new plants around its base. Once the tree, or stalk, blossoms and bears fruit, it dies and usually falls over. This is when the machete owned by my grandfather comes in handy. It’s the perfect tool for hacking through the trunk of an old banana tree, to remove it and let the sunlight hit the new generation below. I usually leave the big banana leaves on the ground as a sort of mulch.
Sometimes growing fruits and vegetables on a barrier island can be very challenging. But anyone having an established banana grove on their property knows it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps one of the most import environmental requirements is that the location be sheltered from very strong winds. Otherwise the leaves become very tattered, and some people find this unattractive. To us, the banana is not only a source of tasty food, but also a visual tropical vegetation accent that adds to the reasons we are glad to live on Anna Maria Island.