I have been at odds with black bananas much of my life. Never a huge banana fan, I have always viewed their quick descent past freckled yellow to spotting brown, and shrinking black, suspiciously.
As a girl I would occasionally eat a pristine banana, a bright yellow one or even one still tinged with a hint of green, the kind with an almost tart flavor that was just beginning to ripen. I liked bananas best when you could scarcely break off the stem and peel them without a knife. Even then I only wanted a bite or two.
My Dad dealt with that kind of pickiness by rarely buying bananas. Aunt Hen, on the other hand, bought bananas just to have some on hand. She saw them as a quick snack, something she could share over breakfast or offer a guest who might pass through her kitchen. If such an occasion didn’t come along she scarcely let it bother her.
When I came into Aunt Hen’s kitchen to visit or get a glass of cold water from her refrigerator I would sometimes look up and see her bananas there, spotting and shrinking. With the wisdom of childhood I would wrinkle my little nose distastefully and ask why she didn’t go ahead and throw those ugly things away. Without missing a beat she would shrug and with a little nod of her head she would tell me, "They aren’t ugly at all. Why they're just getting good!"
Aunt Hen was no fan of tart flavors. She would buy fine looking yellow bananas for others but she wouldn’t eat them herself. If she were going to eat a banana, time had taught her to prefer the deep soft sweetness of overripe bananas, no longer pretty but darkening to perfection and eager to express a bold flavorful stickiness that satisfied her sweet tooth.
Over the years I have come to understand the wisdom of Aunt Hen's words. I have learned to regard perfectly aged bananas as a flavorful treasure that should not be overlooked. Though I still don’t care to eat dark bananas on their own, I have grown to appreciate the depth of sweetness a gently aged banana can add to baked goods. The deeper the aging the less sugar needs to be added to the recipe and the richer the banana flavor imparted to the bread or muffin that comes out of the oven for my family to enjoy.
Note: If you are wondering just how black bananas can get and still be optimal for baking, or how black is “too black”, check out Ripe Bananas for Baking: How Ripe Should Bananas Be? by my friend Alanna at Kitchen Parade. She has discovered a timetable that might surprise you!