Today is National Banana Lovers Day, to celebrate the most popular fruit in the world, as opposed to, say, celebrating the so-called Banana Wars, in which the United States carried out a number of “police actions” in banana-growing countries in order to protect U.S. commercial interests. But we digress. Back to the more pleasant subject of fruit.
The average American eats some 100 bananas a year, or about 25 pounds’ worth — compared with 16 pounds of apples, the second most popular fruit in the United States. But alas, our banana-eating days are imperiled.
In the United States, the breed of banana most eaten is the fungus-resistant Cavendish, which superseded the brand introduced in the U.S. all but knocked out by fungus, the Gros Michel. But in the 1990s, a new and vicious fungus began destroying plants in Southeast Asia, with experts predicting it’s only a matter of time until it spreads to South America, where most bananas are grown. Scientists are racing against the clock to develop a modified version of the Cavendish that will resist this new fungus.
In the meantime, we should enjoy our bananas while we can. Although technically National Banana Lovers Day is different than National Banana Bread Day, celebrated on February 23, there is no reason why we can’t combine celebrations. This is a recipe for “Ultimate Banana Bread” from one of my favorite food blogs, Brown-Eyed Baker:
Ultimate Banana Bread
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
5 large very ripe bananas(about 1¾ to 2 pounds, peeled)
½ cup unsalted butter (melted and cooled slightly)
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts (coarsely chopped (optional))
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
My addition: 1/2 bag semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degres F. Spray an 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Place the bananas in a microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with a paring knife. Microwave on high power until the bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bananas to a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, or 15 minutes (there should be ½ to ¾ cup liquid).
Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir the reduced liquid into the bananas, and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in the butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla extract.
Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined, with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in the walnuts and/or chocolate chips, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the granulated sugar evenly over the top of the loaf.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and continue to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen (the wrapped loaf should then be placed in an resealable freezer bag or double-wrapped with foil) for up to 2 months.
Best served warm with ice cream.