Whether you cut them up into your cornflakes, oatmeal, or yogurt, bake them into bread or cakes, or eat them plain, enjoy bananas now—before they disappear from your local grocery store. Cavendish bananas, the only type of banana found in the United States (except for in a few, select locations), are susceptible to a variation of Panama disease, a fungus that wiped out the Cavendish’s precursor, the Gros Michel banana earlier in the twentieth-century.
By all accounts, the Cavendish is rather bland and not as tasty as other varieties—and there are over 1,000 different varieties of bananas that people in many parts of the world enjoy. Bananas were first widely introduced to the US at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, but it did not take long for the fruit to become a favorite. By the early twentieth-century, many cookbooks included banana puddings, pies, cakes, and other banana recipes. Fannie Farmer’s 1904 Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent explained how to serve a banana:
Remove skin from a thoroughly ripe banana, and scrape to remove the astringent principle which lies close to skin. Cut in thin slices, arrange on a serving-dish, sprinkle with sugar and a few drops lemon juice.
Banana is served frequently with sugar and cream, but proves difficult of digestion to most people in health: therefore its use would better be avoided for the sick.
–Fannie Merritt Farmer, Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (Boston: Little, Brown, 1904), 207.
The United Fruit Company (later Chiquita) cleared rainforests and built shipping networks, which along with political domination, control over laborers, and aggressive marketing, helped to make bananas one of the most popular fruits in the United States. Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World discusses the history of bananas and everything else you ever wanted to know about the fruit. I heard him recently on an episode of the NPR show Science Friday. Koeppel likens the Cavendish banana to a Big Mac: “The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.” *
In any case, the Cavendish is what we have here. At least for now.
So what do bananas have to do with birthdays? Well, this year our younger daughter, now living in her first post-college apartment, asked me to make her a banana cake for her birthday, which was last week. Our older daughter’s birthday is today, but unfortunately, she lives too far away to make a birthday cake delivery practical. Sorry, dear. February is birthday month for our family. My husband’s birthday is next week, and my mother-in-law’s birthday is this weekend. Yay! More birthday cakes!
The cake our daughter requested is a banana cake with chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting. Now you understand. Yes, major true drool factor here.
Chocolate Chip Banana Cake
I’ve adapted this recipe from this one: http://www.bakersroyale.com/cakes/chocolate-chip-banana-cake/
(Her layer cake is much prettier than mine, but it is much easier to prepare and transport a cake in a 13 x 9 inch pan.)
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
½ cup butter
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup buttermilk (I used dried buttermilk powder.)
1 package good quality mini chocolate chips
Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. package of cream cheese (Neufchatel is fine, too.)
4 oz. (1 stick) of butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Approximately 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar
Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and if using buttermilk powder). Whisk to combine.
Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time; beat until combined. Add bananas. I kind of use the mixer to mix them in—they are not so totally mashed, and the little chunks give it a more banana-y flavor. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk (or water, if using dried buttermilk). Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Cool. Then frost—if you haven’t eaten all the icing already.
Combine frosting ingredients. I don’t like a super-sweet frosting, so adjust the sugar to your taste. Try not to slather it all over yourself, but you will want to.
* Dan Koeppel, “Yes, We Will Have No Bananas,” New York Times, June 18, 2008,