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BANANAS. The banana, the most prolific fruit plant known, is a native of, the East Indies but is now cultivated in all tropical countries. It is palm-like in appearance, but is in fact a large "plant," the thick, soft stem being formed by the overlapping of the long vertical leaf-stalks. This stem in the dwarf types is only about four feet in height, but in the most widely known varieties it reaches from twelve to twenty feet, up to even forty feet, with a diameter in the latter case of twelve to sixteen inches. The leaves spread out from the top of the sheath, each from six to ten feet in length by two feet or so in width.

The flowers, long and narrow, generally red, some times pink and yellow in color, are at first folded close together to corm a neaa at tne ena of a large drooping spike. Those at the point of the spike die unproductive, but the others, commencing from the stem side, rapidly change into fruit, layer by layer in circles around the stem, which steadily elongates so as to give each layer or "hand" plenty of room to develop— some branches containing as many as 160 fruits. A branch is known commercially as a "bunch"—the standard size being nine "hands" or "ridges," or "layers" to a stem, with from ten to fifteen bananas to a "hand." In Central America, the bunches often run a good deal larger.

Contrary to popular belief, bananas do not grow on the tree as they hang in the store, but with the small end of the fruit pointing upward.

After the fruit is taken, the plant is cut down—a new stalk growing up again and producing fruit in ten to twelve months. This course is repeated for about ten years, when the vigor of the plant generally decreases and it is re placed by a new cutting. For commercial purposes, the banana is cultivated with a good deal of care—it is set out in hills and rows, very much like maize, except for the much larger distances separating the hills, and is carefully weeded and watched—but as a native food it needs very little atten tion, all that is necessary being to loosen the earth around the roots every season and to remove any suckers thrown up and plant them at requisite distances.

The' yellow bananas are everywhere the most plentiful, but the red varieties are raised in. considerable quantities in Cuba and Central America. Their respective merits are entirely a matter of individual opinion.

The "fig" or "Iady-finger" banana, a very small, thin-skinned yellow variety, is the most esteemed in tropical countries—the flesh is finer and the flavor very soft and sweet.

Bananas are brought to our markets in a green state, coming chiefly from Jamaica and Central America. As they are easily frozen, they are in cold weather packed very carefully before shipping—but are always sent at the risk of the party ordering.

When received by the retailer or consumer in green condition, they should be kept in a moderately warm room or cellar until they begin to show color. Both cold and excessive heat will prevent' them from maturing satisfactorily. When ripened, they are especially sensitive to low temperature and will readily deteriorate in any place where the thermometer registers below 50° Fahr. Placing in a refrigerator, or even laying on a cold marble slab, will turn them black and may spoil their flavor.

In selecting bunches, give the preference to those with stems still greenish in color and bearing fruit full and plump in appearance. If the fruit is thin or flat looking, the bunch was probably cut too soon and in that case, though the fruit may ripen and become yellow, it will never attain the flavor and delicacy of that properly developed on the plant. Some varieties are naturally more or less "flat" in appearance even when fully de veloped, but as they are generally inferior in quality, it is safest for the average retailer to adhere to the rule to take only those "full and plump." Properly selected and carefully ripened to a good deep yellow, the banana of the northwestern retailer is just as delicious as the fruit plucked from the plant in its tropical home.

The banana is in this country nearly always eaten raw, but in the West Indies and other tropical and sub-tropical parts it is also baked and otherwise cooked, both as a vegetable and dessert, made into flour for bread, dried black in the sun after the manner of figs, preserved with sugar and with vinegar, and pressed and fermented to yield a spirituous drink resembling cider.

The Plantain (which see) is of the banana family and the fruit resembles a yellow banana, but it is larger and coarser and suitable only for cooking.