It's a common joke that conservatives are always longing for the good old days. Things were better back then, if only because we remember them through a golden haze of nostalgia. Well, sometimes we're right: things were better back in the day. For example, the banana. If you're old enough, the bananas of your youth were Big Mikes (the Gros Michel cultivar). Now they're universally the blander, starchier Cavendish.
I was born too late to ever taste a good, old fashioned banana. Instead, I grew up wondering why, oh why, my parents and grandparents expected me to believe that bananas were a delicious fruit, and why the banana split ever became a popular dessert. How exactly is an ice-cream sundae improved by surrounding it with two strips of bland, starchy, unripe-tasting Styrofoam?
What happened to the old banana? In one sense, lack of sex is what brought it down. Cultivated bananas are usually sterile hybrids, meaning they're propagated by cloning. It's not hard for one disease to wipe out an entire population of clones, and that's indeed what happened. By the mid 1960s, Panama Disease had wiped out Big Mike worldwide, and may do the same thing to the Cavendish in the future. I, for one, will not miss the Cavendish when it goes.
But there's still hope for banana lovers. My husband was born just in time to have tasted the last of the Big Mikes in his early childhood. With no knowledge that the varieties had changed, he spent the rest of his life wondering why bananas never tasted as good as his first memories of them. Until yesterday. We got a bunch of small bananas, each only a little longer than a finger. I persuaded him to eat one. His whole face lit up: "Wow. This tastes... like a banana!"
Maybe I should end with the lesson that bigger isn't always better, but I think it's more entertaining to end with a bit of musical trivia. Rumor has it that for decades, "Yes! We have no bananas", a song inspired by an early outbreak of Panama Disease, was the best selling sheet music in history. How many hit songs can claim the distinction of having been inspired by an agricultural pest?
Photo: Quantum Soup