The notion of mixing fruit with meat definitely doesn’t fall outside the boundaries of mainstream American cooking. Duck often appears in the company of cherries, and nobody flinches when ham’s pierced with a pineapple ring. Indeed, at the most American of all meals, turkey and cranberries share a plate.
Yet beef and fruit remains an almost unheard-of combination. With the notable exception of ketchup, famously classified as a vegetable during the Reagan administration, red meat and fruit tend to stay in separate spheres: At a standard steakhouse, wine reductions are about the only evidence that things grow on trees. In the 1920s, though, food writers, including Bessie Murphy, whose column ran in The Charleston Evening Post, believed beef belonged with bananas.
Americans in the late 1800s were high on fruit, largely because of its nutritional properties: The phrase “eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread” was first recorded in the latter part of the 19th century.
When bananas became widely available, many eaters considered them even better than apples. They were cheaper, and in an era obsessed with sanitation, sported their own hygienic peels. And while the tropical fruit was delicious raw, fans couldn’t resist concentrating its sugars by subjecting it to heat.
Nowadays, warmed-up bananas are most commonly associated with Bananas Foster, invented in the 1950s at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. “I have never understood why everybody in the world thinks Bananas Foster is so phenomenal,” Ella Brennan recently told The Times-Picayune. “It’s very ordinary to me.”
Mary Chambers, author of 1914’s “Principles of Food Preparation,” thought broiled bananas were so extraordinary that she didn’t see any reason to wait for dessert to serve them. “A spoonful of horseradish sauce on a Salisbury steak, with a broiled banana on top, makes a delicious combination,” she confided.
It’s not clear who first thought to pair bananas with meat, but home economists and food manufacturers ran with the idea. A.L. Wyman in 1928 advised Los Angeles Times readers to “place a section of broiled banana on each round of steak,” while grocery chain Waldorfs in 1934 suggested serving broiled bananas with Scotch ham.
“ ‘I never heard of a broiled banana before,’ exclaimed a woman shopper,” the ad copy went. “ ‘but isn’t it good.’ ”
In 1935, The Washington Post summed up the new meat-and-banana fad: “Latest of the fruits to find their place in meat cookery is the banana. Many new and splendid recipes have been devised for (its) use.” The newspaper offered a recipe for banana meat loaf, made with ground beef, bacon, dry mustard and banana pulp.
The Evening Post in 1929 ran seven recipes for bananas, explaining “the banana surpasses most of the vegetables in energy value and in tissue-building elements.”
Three of the recipes involved meat: Bananas with Beefsteak, Bananas with Pork and Lamb Chops and Broiled Bananas.
To broil bananas, home cooks were supposed to first dip the fruit in melted fat and breadcrumbs. “Serve with bacon, chops or steak,” the recipe instructed.
Daniel Doyle of Poogan’s Smokehouse never considered pairing bananas with steak. Instead, he came up with a banana-peach sauce that he felt “would definitely work in almost any pork context.” His chosen context was a pork chop, smoked over hickory and cherry wood, then grilled until it charred.
“I’d never done non-dessert work with bananas,” says Doyle, who turned to a fruit that makes more local savory appearances: Peaches. Doyle sweated diced skin-on peaches with ginger and garlic, then added the sliced bananas, butter and bourbon to the pan for a quick flambe. He finished the sauce with lemon zest and brown sugar.
“It actually came out really nice,” Doyle says. “The ginger gave it a nice bite, and the lemon zest lightened it.”
Still, he’s not yet suggesting you put it on your burger.