[Sca-cooks] Another, older, banana found in London

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Thu Jul 15 20:20:01 PDT 2010

Thank you Bear for the update on the genetic testing of this "banana". I 
hadn't heard of it testing out to be a plantain.

    Take this with a grain of salt.  It was from a little news squibb I can 
no longer locate.  It might be interesting to see if the Museum of London 
has released a paper(s) on the finds in the Southwark dig.

But even if it is a plantain, I'm still wondering how common it was in 
England or the continent. And if it was, what happened? Plantains aren't 
very common in the Europe or the US now. Did the Cavendish banana drive off 
all the competitors? Afterall, you can cook bananas or eat them raw, which 
you can't do with a plantain. And this particular banana is sweeter.

    Not very common.  About the closest source for bananas and plantains is 
the Canary Islands.  With fair winds, a fast ship can make the passage from 
the Canaries to London in 10 to 12 days (or so I have been lead to believe). 
Without refrigeration, freshly cut bananas last about 14 days, which 
suggests that probably were a small part of any cargo and would only be 
carried on the fastest ships.  This in turn suggests that bananas were 
likely uncommon in most of Europe.  When the banana trade took off in the 
19th Century, the most common banana was the Gros Michel (hope I didn't 
butcher the spelling).  This was replaced by the Cavendish banana, IIRC, 
because the Cavendish travels and stores better.

In case folks aren't aware of it, almost all commercial bananas are 
identical, genetic clones of the same asexual plant. Mankind has so modified 
the plant that it cannot reproduce by seeds. Which is why commercial banana 
crops are in danger of being wiped out whenever a pest manages to adapt to 
the environment of the plant.


     The sweet banana is one of the oldest hybrids in the world, extending 
back over 5,000 years.  We haven't any idea when or where the hybridization, 
but the evidence suggests that man's cultivation of the banana began before 
the developement of continuous agriculture.


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