Bananas in Period

Bananas in Period

By

Honorable Lady Sosha Lyon’s O’Rourke

 Dinner with banana tree in back ground


History:

A Banana is complex plant where the flowers are not flowers, and fruit appears with out fertilization and there are no seeds.  The banana reproduces from a rhizome. (Toussaint-Samat, pp. 678).  The banana was and still is a very popular food item.  A Buddhist monk wrote of the banana in 600 B.C, (Staub, pp. 31) and the delight he found in this strange non seeding fruit.  From China to India to the Middle East and along the trade routes the banana set out to spread along the world as a favored food mostly in sweets but in the occasional savory dish.

The banana is thought to have been transported to Central America by a a Spanish missionary Tomas de Berlanga in 1516 and/or Portuguese sailors trying to establish a cash crop. (Staub pp. 31/Uscs.edu).   This favored Asian and Middle East fruit did very well in the tropics of South America.  So well that plantations were set up to grow this flavorful lucrative fruit.

Bananas in Art:

Bananas seem to be in the category of illusive items that every one knew about, had a few recipes but the art work is depicting them is harder then hen’s teeth to find.  I have found two pictures that deal with dinners and have either bananas in the art work or a banana tree.

Dinner with banana tree in back ground

Humayun at the celebration held at the time of Akbar’s circumcision, Mughal, c. 1603-1604 British Library.

Trying to find the banana tree in this picture was a little like trying to find Waldo.  There is so much going on in this amazingly active feast painting.

Banana tree close up

Humayun at the celebration held at the time of Akbar’s circumcision, Mughal, c. 1603-1604 British Library.

In the far top almost center, next to the throne there is a small section of plants, where one looks to be a rendering of a banana plant.

The next picture and close up are in another feast painting.

 

Serving bananas

Banquet being prepared for Bahur and the Mirazs; Mughal, c. 1590. British Library

Again there is a lot of activity and color going on.  I love the way the artist has rendered the serving dishes in the back ground and the large cooking vessels (but that’s for another research paper).

Close up of bananas

Banquet being prepared for Bahur and the Mirazs; Mughal, c. 1590. British Library

This is a close cropping from the middle of the picture, where the servant is carrying a tray of melons and bananas.

Banana in period recipes:

One of the most recent books to come out for Middieval Middle Eastern cooking is called The Nimatnama Manuscript fo the Sultans of Mandu, a fabulous book with several banana recipes.  However I am going to go old school and use the Medieval Arab Cookery book and Medieval Cuisine in the Islamic World for the following period recipe(s).

 Judhaba

Apricots (or Bananas) and Chicken

 

Translation:

First Recipe: Banana

Take bananas that are fully ripe.  Peel them and immerse them in fine samid sour dough, kneaded as for pancakes.  Then take them up and leave on some thing woven.  Boil sesame oil, fry the bananas, take them out and throw them in syrup.  Then throw them in a dish with pounded, sugar, then arrange them in a tray with fine flat breads above and below.  Hang fat chicken above.

(Rodison, pp. 411).

Second Recipe: Apricots

Take some sweet and mature apricots; detach (the fruit) from the pit.  (Mix it with sugar.) In a clean baking pan…spread out (an already baked) flat bread) and place the mixture of apricots and place the mixture of apricots and sugar) on top.  (over this with another cooked flat bread.)  If you wish to add a bit of saffron , do so and sprinkle with rose water; then hang an excellent hen over (the dish), may it please God.

(Zaouali, pp. 82)

Ingredients:

5 Bananas        1/3 cup sugar    flat bread dough

Walnut  oil

½ C rendered chicken fat

For Apricots

or 2 cups fresh or dried apricots 1 pinch saffron            1/8 teaspoon rosewater

 

Banana Flat Bread Dough

4 C flour           2 TBS honey    1 TBS salt        1 C water         3 VERY ripe bananas

 

Redaction:

When I did this recipe the first time, I used sliced home made bread and apricots.  The bread burnt on the bottom..  The second time I used raw flat bread dough but not flat bread with banana, and a chicken sitting on top of the raw flat bread.  This was much much better.  I also did half apricots (mixed with saffron and rose water) and raw bananas (uncooked).  This time, I adapted the dough a bit and the stuffing. Originally I took a shallow tangine, and poured a little sesame oil down to coat the dish then laid down the raw flat bread.   This time I used a clay dish, deeper then a tangine unfortunately not deep enough as the dough raised and the rendered chicken fat could not all be used only a small portion.

First I made the dough.  Flour in a bowl.  The ingredients honey, salt, yeast and water.   Are then mixed together.  This is very well mixed together.  Next add in three very ripe bananas to the soft dough.  Mix, in the bananas, very well.  The dough should be pliable and soft but not hard.  Some where between a pancake dough and a bread dough.  Divide the dough into two.  On a well floured surface, roll the dough out.  Here bits of honey that have not been well mixed are showing through.  I used honey that had gone granular due to the cold.  To fix this, in a period manner, just put granular honey in a bowl then place that bowl in another bowl with hot water coming to just the middle of the first bowl.  This should melt the honey. Or just stick the bowl with the granular honey in a microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Take a deep clay dish and oil the bottom.  Here I used walnut oil.  Sesame oil has a very strong taste and I wanted a nuttier flavor instead.  The recipe calls for sesame but I changed this to my taste.  Place the dough in the bottom of the dish.

Take and chop 5 bananas.  These bananas need to be not overly ripe.  Green bananas to almost brown but not squishy.   Slice the bananas up as thicker or slightly thicker then a finger width (roughly ½ inch).  Take a frying pan and add walnut oil with 1/3 C of sugar.  Then add the raw bananas until slightly browned.  Maybe 2 minutes.  Do not burn.  The sugar will caramelize adding a deeper color to the bananas so pay strict attention to this part.

Cooked bananas.  These are so incredibly good, that I had to limit myself to only a couple of bites other wise I would have eaten the entire filling of cooked bananas.  Place the caramelized bananas on top of the bottom layer of dough.  Place the second layer of dough on top.  Place the dish into the oven at 350.

This is where things get a little tricky.  In period, the oven area had hooks for the a chicken to be roasted on (Rodison/Zaouali,  Most people do not have such an item in their ovens or fire pits. So there are two choices, place a raw chicken on tope while the dish cooks or take the rendered fat from roasted chicken.

I choose to take the fat from a roasted chicken.  My reasoning came from using a chicken last time.  I was not impressed with either the chicken on top of the dough or how the dough came out.  The dish was excellent but I was not as impressed as I wanted to be with the final result.  So every 15 minutes pour a few tablespoons on top of the dough pour a few tablespoons of rendered fat at a time.  Pouring a little at a time will simulate the dripping of the fat from a chicken over the pudding dish instead of drowning the dish in chicken fat.  The crust is lightly browned, even golden, where you can see the chicken fat has crisped the dough along the edges.

The final taste test was incredible.  The top is savory sweet while the filling adds an extra layer of sweetness.  The bottom is perfectly done, sweet but not as savory as the top.

Period vs. Modern

The period dish would have been done in a wood fired stove with a hanging chicken on a hook or spit.  I had to do this dish in a gas fired stove with collected rendered chicken fat.  I used as many organic items as possible.  The chicken that would have been cooked over this dish would have been either a Sultan or a Russian Orlaff (Chickens in Period Research Paper).  I had to use a modern chicken for the rendered fat.  As seen in the photos, I tried to use as period dishes as possible for mixing and cooking.  The bananas would have been fried on a flat sheet of metal. (Rodinson, p. 286)

I enjoyed this dish very much.  I would have personally seasoned the dough with spices but the recipe did not indicate this was done.  I am betting; however that the love for spices was great enough someone somewhere would have thought to spice the dough up.  If I were serving this to friends, I would; however the dough at this point is a simple dough relying on bananas and honey for flavor.

               

References:

  Banquet being prepared for Bahur and the Mirazs; Mughal, c. 1590. British Library

Humayun at the celebration held at the time of Akbar’s circumcision, Mughal, c. 1603-1604 British Library.

Komaroff, L., Gifts of the Sultan: The arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts.

Rodison, M., (2001). Medieval Arab Cookery.

Rodinson, M., Arberry, A., Perry, C., (2001). Medieval Arab Cookery.  Prospect Books. Cromwell Press.

Staub, J., (2005). 75 Exciting Vegetables. Gibbs Smith, Publisher Salkt Lake City.

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food.

Zaouali, L., (2004)., Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. University of California Press.

 

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