From the moment we arrived on the verdant almond-shaped Caribbean island of St. Lucia, lying in the Windward Islands between Martinique and St. Vincent, I was enchanted by the scenery. The island is a marvelous natural museum, once called "God's own garden," with dense rain forests, rich green valleys, towering twin conical volcanic peaks (the Pitons), mineral baths, bubbling sulfur springs, waterfalls, palm-fringed beaches, and exotic wildflowers.
My first view of St. Lucia included rows of broad-leafed banana plants as well. They cover the hills and valleys. Small wooden houses are surrounded by their own groves. Smiling boys along the roadside display bunches of bananas for sale. Throughout my visit, I bought fascinating varieties at local markets and even along the beaches. Bananas are the main crop, primary industry, and major export, which is why they are called "green gold."
Bananas are known locally as figs and, as the St. Lucians say, they are on every plate, in every pot, and behind every bar. A great variety of culinary specialties can be made with ripe bananas, green bananas, and plantains (cooking bananas)--all mainstays of the island's diet.
One of the best ways to learn about bananas is to visit the banana plantations. The island's three largest are Cul-de-Sac, just north of Marigot Bay on the west coast; Roseau, south of the bay; and Dennery, on the east coast. Visitors there can get a glimpse of the activities of a typical "banana day." The bananas on the trees are covered with large plastic bags, usually bright blue, which protect them from insects and birds while allowing the sunlight in. Within nine to twelve months, the heavy stems are ready for harvesting, which takes place while the fruit is still green. Tree-ripened bananas are tasteless and have a cottony texture.
On St. Lucia, three main kinds of bananas are cultivated commercially: the valery, the robusta, and the giant Cavendish. Windward Island bananas, which are grown by independent farmers on the islands of Dominica, St. Vincent, Grenada, and St. Lucia (the largest producer) are smaller, sweeter, and tastier than bananas grown in other areas.
Although bananas are now a staple food in St. Lucia, the local cuisine developed long before their arrival following World War I. Many of the traditional dishes include root vegetables and spices introduced by the Arawak and Carib Indians, the marvelous local seafood, native fruits, and techniques and influences from English, French, Indian, and African cuisine. This blending of culinary inheritances has resulted in a magical spicy version of Creole cooking.
St. Lucian cooks use green bananas and plantains in appetizers, soups and stews, casseroles, curries, salads, and as a starchy vegetable. The island's national dish, green fig salad, is made with cooked unripe bananas and salt codfish. The ripe sweet banana is an important ingredient in cold soups, salads, jams, chutneys, breads, and all kinds of delectable desserts--cakes, crumbles, fritters, pies, puddings, sweet omelets, and ice cream.
A good place to get an idea of the variety of bananas and the diversity of the island's other foods is
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