BANANAS

The smell of very ripe bananas takes me right back to my early childhood – particularly to my grandparents’ home called Stonybrae in Southbroom, a coastal town in KwaZulu Natal. This is because my Grandpa used to store whole bunches of bananas in the cellar beneath their house, which could be accessed from a small wooden door along one side of the house. These bunches varied from being very green through to very ripe.

As if spending time at the seaside was not special enough for this landlubber family, having ready access to so many bananas whenever we wanted one made our holidays seem ‘extra special’. There was only one rule: we had to leave the overripe ones for my Grandpa. He enjoyed eating the really fruity bananas shunned by so many: the ones with their deep yellow skin already covered with brown to black spots; parts of the fruit inside were already of a ‘jammy’ consistency.

I have always enjoyed the taste of bananas and our fruit bowl is seldom without some. During the year I lived in Amanzimtoti, also on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal, I regularly bought a supply from a vendor who set up his truck close to the beach front. He soon got to recognise me and would have the ‘right’ amount of bananas weighed and ready before I had even asked him.

His prices would escalate – even double – during peak holiday periods to the point when I dithered about purchasing his bananas. Seeing my hesitation, he looked me in the eye and with a perfectly straight face told me in a loud voice (doubtless for the benefit of other customers) what the going price was. When I reluctantly handed over the money, he winked as he gave me the change I had not expected. “Special customer, special price”, he told me quietly. I discovered he employed this strategy with all of his ‘regulars’. Once the holidaymakers had left, his prices would drop to what we were accustomed to.

Of course a song that will always be associated with bananas in my mind is the Banana Boat Song (Day-O) sung so beautifully by Harry Belafonte. As children we would sing this song with gusto, only we thought the words were ‘highly deadly black tarantula’ – it was years later that I realised he was actually singing Hide the deadly black tarantula!

A beautiful bunch of ripe banana

(Daylight come and we want go home)

Hide the deadly black tarantula

(Daylight come and we want go home)

The idea of coming across a black tarantula (always sung with considerable emphasis) has always sent shivers down my spine.

POMEGRANATE

A couple of mature pomegranate trees grew on our farm, probably planted there years before my father bought the land. This was decades before pomegranates became popular in modern cuisine, yet we loved pulling the ripe apple-sized, leathery fruit from the trees, breaking them open, and eating the beautiful red arils inside. Somehow, the small plastic tubs of pomegranate rubies I occasionally buy from the supermarkets do not taste the same: they still look beautiful, but lack the tangy, crisp taste of newly opened fruit.

These days the consumption of pomegranate fruit or juice is widely touted for its high vitamin C content as well as other health benefits ranging from assisting arthritis sufferers, Alzheimer’s, preventing cancer to improving one’s memory. We were ignorant of all these things and merely enjoyed the taste and the fact that such fruit was freely available.

Pomegranates are native to northern India and Iran and have formed part of the Middle Eastern diet since antiquity. They have only recently been grown on a commercial scale in South Africa, doubtless following the world-wide trend in ‘healthy living’ and the fruit being regarded as a ‘super-food’. As they grow best in a Mediterranean climate, it is not surprising to find the bulk of our local production is in the Western Cape.

You can read more about their local production at http://southafrica.co.za/pomegranate-production-south-africa.html