I'm giving up eating bananas.
I just read "Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World." As author Dan Koeppel unpeels events, the history of commercial bananas is uglier than factory-farmed veal: rain forests destroyed, people subjugated, governments controlled, a species of food slowly poisoned by the very businessmen who made billions of dollars while making bananas the most-loved fruit on earth. Call it bananafest destiny.
I'll review Koeppel's fascinating book in Sunday's SoundLife section. Meanwhile, if you're like me and are chewing on what to do with those last three bananas that are turning black in my fruit bowl, I've got a suggestion:
When life hands you doomed fruit, make black banana cake.
My recipe for black banana cake was the result of a job interview. The owner of a diner had offered me 10 bucks an hour to bake cakes and pastries, but first I had to duplicate something. The guy unwrapped a foil pouch. Whatever was inside looked like an ebony brick – a cross between chocolate bread pudding and black-tar heroin. I poked at it. It was soft and moist. I cut it. It was fluffy. I tasted it. It was delicious.
"Who made it?" I asked.
He told me this story:
It was a dark and stormy night. The man's car battery died in the Costco parking lot. A little old lady parked next to him. She had jumper cables and a trusting nature. She got him on his way, and to thank her, he invited her to his restaurant.
She showed up the next week bearing a foil-wrapped bundle: banana cake that was as dark as the sky the night they met. The nice little old lady brought a fresh cake every couple of weeks. What the restaurateur didn't immediately consume, his customers enjoyed as that night's dessert special. Now he was opening a new place and he wanted the cake to star on his new diner's dessert menu.
He handed me a well-worn index card containing most of the recipe – some of the ingredients but none of the measures. It didn't say what to do with the melted butter. It made no mention of leavening. By comparing recipes with similar ingredients, I cobbled together a detailed recipe.
Since the recipe card omitted a few things, I figured I'd add a few things: lemon zest to heighten the flavors, little dark rum to deepen the mood, toasted pecans for body and bite. The finished cake needs little more than a dusting of powdered sugar, maybe a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream.
Use the ripest, blackest, mushiest bananas you have. One fully ripe banana may contain more sugar than one chocolate bar. There's a lot of sugar in the recipe, too. Together they caramelize and darken the batter as it bakes.
Bananas have come a long way, from Asia to Africa to Central America to your bowl of corn flakes. In, "Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World," author Koeppel details not only the rise of empires like Chiquita and Dole and the demise of democracy in the third world, but he forecasts the death of bananas as we know them.
Until then, viva la banana, and may you eat black banana cake.
Ed's Ebony Banana Cake
Makes 1 9-by-9-inch cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 /4 teaspoon salt
3 very ripe bananas, mashed - about 1