Backing our tropicals

Lucas Parkinson
Lucas Parkinson: Photo: ODT files
Wanaka chef Lucas Parkinson is on a mission to bring back the New Zealand-grown banana industry.

Thinking about what to cook for brunch often brings back memories from my childhood - memories of my dad flipping French toast and dousing them with raw sugar, a squeeze of lemon and eaten with a panfried banana.

Then on the Phoenix Tour after Ode burned down, eating French toast made from week-old brioche at Giulio Sturlas house on a Saturday morning after the pop-up at the late Roots restaurant in Lyttelton.

With Ode about to reopen for breakfast as well as dinner, I've just got to have French toast at the Ode Breakfast Club.

Bananas, although the perfect match for French toast, come from far away places such as Ecuador, Mexico and the Phillipines, so I won't use them - if produce isn't local and organic I won't use it.

Rewind to January. I'm at my parents' house in Auckland and it's a hot, humid North Island summer's day when the chairman of the Tropical Fruit Growers Association of New Zealand calls with a story about bananas.

Apparently, up until the 1950s, New Zealand grew its own bananas until a bunch of politicians decided to set up plantations in Tonga to boost that country's economy. The move shut down New Zealand's thriving local banana industry, making it illegal to import any materials used for growing bananas.

What they didn't account for is the storms that Tonga regularly encounters, which kept wiping out all the banana plantations. New Zealand gave up on the idea of growing bananas in Tonga and decided to import them from thousands of kilometres away instead.

The New Zealand banana industry had effectively been killed off.

That is until a bunch of like-minded individuals, such as Hugh Rose, from the Tropical Fruit Growers, decided to grow all types of tropical fruits - bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papayas and even coffee beans - in the north of New Zealand.

Collectively, they now have more than 30,000 banana trees and counting.

I've decided to support the revival of the New Zealand banana industry for a multitude of reasons: It's our most popular fruit and we import 87.5 million kilograms a year.

That is over $250 million a year (imagine if that was going back into our economy); bananas are not seasonal, we can grow and harvest bananas all year round and we grow 21 varieties here, all delicious; bananas thrive on (but don't need) excessive nitrates and phosphates, a current issue we have with nutrient run-off into our rivers, and on top of that cows can eat all parts of the banana tree, so they clean up the waterways and feed the cattle sweet goodness. And finally we could cut down millions of carbon kilometres every year by growing and consuming our own bananas.

So what's to lose?

I say let's bring them back, so here's a recipe that's a real family treat on a Sunday morning.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
Panfried bananas with French toast

Feeds 4

Costs $26

1 loaf of good brioche (a few days old is best)
4 eggs
250ml milk (we use Holy Cow)
1 large lemon
3-4 bananas (we use Fairtrade organic bananas, for now)
130g butter
30g local honey
raw golden sugar for dousing
250gm mascarpone

Beat eggs and milk together.

Cut brioche into 2cm-4cm-thick slices, allowing two slices per person, set aside.

Peel bananas and cut lengthway.

Cut lemon into four or eight wedges.

Warm two frying pans, then dip the slices of brioche into the egg mixture (about 20 seconds per side) and lay on a plate or board ready to fry.

Heat the pans until they are hot, place a third of the butter in the first pan and lay bananas flat-side down and fry, then throw the rest of the butter in the other pan and start cooking the French toast (you can use extra pans if you want them to all be ready at the same time).

Fry until golden on one side (should take three minutes or so), then flip and repeat on the other side. By this time your bananas should be nice and golden, turn them over and turn the pan off, leave bananas in the warm pan.

Once toast is golden on both sides, remove from pan and douse in golden sugar, place on a warm plate, lay bananas next to them, trickle some honey and dollop some mascarpone, creme fraiche or whipped cream on the side. Don't forget to add a squeeze of lemon!

Absolutely moreish.

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