SUBHEAD: Growing, planting, harvesting and processing plantains for the freezer and frying pan.
By Juan Wilson on 23 September 2009 for Island Breath -
Image above: A patch of plantain banana trees in our backyard in Hanapepe Valley.
All photos by Juan Wilson
When we bought our house in 2001 there was a stand of plantain bananas
in the front yard. We gathered a few but did not at the time think
seriously about harvesting them systematically. After a few years the
plants were shaded by a quick growing monkeypod. On top of that we were
not giving them enough water. They began dying out. As a plant was about
to come to maturity it would topple over before it produced fruit.
Around the fallen base of the plant keiki would sprout.
Two years ago I began transplanting the keiki banana to my back yard where there was more sunlight and more regular watering. I used a mattock to slpit the keiki from the original base plant. When doing this it's best to cut away part of the base with the keiki. To replant simply dig a small hole and bury the bottom of the keiki and base chunk with a little compost and backfill. If the tree is leaning to begin with, it will topple before ready for harvest. If the trees are planted close they can lean on each other for support. As the tree gets a start it sometimes helps to adjust it to a more upright orientation with a rock or other device. Then just water and wait.
The next season when the plantain banana hand should get going. If the hanging flower stem is not producing full sized bananas anymore, snap it off. Otherwise it will simply sap energy from the plant.
I'm not sure of the variety of the plantains I have. They are not the big red Cuban kind. They are medium size trees with fruit that is green when harvested. I have many of these trees that cannot support the weight of the banana hand when fully developed. They can weigh 60-80 pounds. These bananas are best to gather when they are still bright green. There is a wide window of time in which to harvest this fruit.
Image above: Ripened plantain bananas fresh out of storage from dedicated galvanized trashcan.
I like to have a sturdy wheel barrel under the hand when I cut it down. Once the hand is harvested we cut down the trunk of the plant about a foot off the ground. We remove the leaves from the trunk to feed our neighbor's horses or use it for banana patch weed suppression. We lay the fallen trunks around the patch as a border.
We rinse the bugs and any detritus off the hand with a garden hose.
We used to hang the harvested hand in the garage, but found birds and bugs found the fruit before we got to it or the ripening fruit would fall off the hand and hit the concrete. So now I keep a nice clean galvanized trashcan ready for ripening the hand. This keeps the bugs out and also provides darkness (and I think carbon dioxide) that brings all the bananas to even yellow ripeness in a just a couple of days.
Image above: Processing plantain bananas for immediate cooking or freezing for later use.
Some like plantain greener some like it riper. When cooked green it's more like a potato, when riper it's like candy--we have a three year old friend who calls them "Marshmallow Bananas". You should check the trahscan every day. When the plantain is ripe the way you like it, you can use a serrated knife to slice off a hand of 6 or 8 bananas. T
ake them out of the trashcan and give them a good rinsing.
Once on the cutting board, it is easy to use the knife to nick the skin in order to peel it off. I slice the plantains less than a quarter inch thick (4 or 5 slices per banana). Each banana is about a serving. I put one layer of the sliced plantain into a one gallon reclosable plastic kitchen bag. About 3 or 4 bananas can fit in a bag. Then I head for the freezer. The bags stack well and a lot can be fit in a small area. Frozen plantain are excellent for long term storage. They are as delicious as fresh ones. Even very ripe soft fruit work.
Image above: Hand of plantain bananas sliced and frozen and layered in one gallon plastic bags for later use.
Plantain are simple to cook. We use a large smooth mature cast iron pan. Use an cooking oil that can take heat. Once the oil is in the pan, sprinkle in a bit of sea salt. Use less salt the riper the bananas. Place the bananas in the pan so they don't touch one another. This helps when it comes to flipping them. Cook them at least until they are somewhat caramelized on both sides.
Some people like them a bit crispy on the oustide, even blackened a bit. I like to use a pan that's a bit dirty with something recently cooked like koloa pork or even turkey bacon. This speeds and flavors the caramelization.
Plantain is a great staple vegetable here in the tropics. We often eat fried plantain as a side dish with black beans (cooked with garlic and onions with chopped tomatoes) over brown rice. Recently we have used it as a side dish with bitter garden green (kale/collards) with fish or pork.
Image above: Ripe frozen plantain slices browned and frying in oil in cast iron pan.
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