I ate five bananas this morning. I know that sounds piggish but truly, they were the size of your little finger, if you have small hands. They came from one of our plants in the yard here, our second variety. We’ve been ripening the fruit on their stem for a month or more, and today we had a few for breakfast.
Living here in Southern California means you can grow an amazing variety of fruiting plants, from bananas to apples (and don’t let anyone tell you it’s too warm for a good apple here. I grow Granny Smith, Pettingill, Fuji, Harrold, and Gordon in what Sunset calls Zone 24.) The first banana we purchased from the Banana people in La Conchita, wonderful gardens now long gone, has no label left. It’s a chunky, reasonably good producer, best cooked, because it has a starchy not so sweet flavor. Whatever its name, that banana grows like a weed and I am kept busy chopping off its unwelcome advances into other parts of the yard.
A friend gave us a slip of the Ice Cream Banana, and it has taken years to nurture. My feeling is that it is delicate, more prone to frost than the first variety we grew. (We frost for one to two weeks of the year, enough to burn leaves, and these nights are not in a block but scattered through the winter, usually ending by March 1. You should see our yard on those nights, with plants shrouded in old blankets and sheets to protect them.) Several times Ice Cream attempted a stalk of bananas for us, and various accidents played their part in frustrating our expectations. Replacing the in-ground gas line was one of those events–not an episode of ‘delicacy’ on the part of the banana. Another time, the wind knocked down the bearing stalk before the fruit had sufficiently matured. But do remember that we are gardeners who ascribe to the survival of the fittest school, so when you look at our yard, it’s a jungle out there.
When the banana stalk has ceased to set new fruit, it’s time to cut it down. Hang the stalk in a cool dry place and wait for the bananas to ripen, which they will show by a quiet transition to a yellowish hue marked with brown or black. Then you can cut off the hands of bananas, so they are convenient to handle. As you see by the photo above, this stalk was a short one– I had already cut off about three hands to give away before I thought to take a photo to share.
The first taste of Ice Cream Banana was rewarding. A very firm, acidic and sweet banana, it reminds us of the standard Cavendish from the grocery store. Familiar, but better. Stronger in the acid, fragrant and possibly sweeter as well. But tiny—it reminds me of the bananas we used to call ‘Lady Finger’ in West Africa, which were charmingly miniaturized. If you are in the right zone, I strongly recommend it. But if you are undecided between growing a cherimoya or a banana, grow the cherimoya. You’ll gain higher yields than a banana, which only fruits once per growing stalk, and our perceptions say that the cherimoya is far more rewarding in flavor than any banana we have yet met. I have had good results with Booth cherimoya but there are many varieties. Some folk have been daunted by the idea that cherimoyas need hand pollination, but we have not troubled with that and in season have more fruit from our tree than we can eat by ourselves.