On Saturday mornings Neville Singh gets to sleep in – till 6am. Every other morning he’s up at around 4.30am picking, then packing, the bananas that have been part of the family livelihood for nearly fifty years.
Neville’s father started the Fowlers Lane farm in 1974, growing and selling bananas to Sydney and Brisbane markets. At the time it was also a dairy and pig farm, but in 2008, he tells me, ‘I decided to stay with the bananas.’
Apart from the common yellow Cavendish, he grows Senoritas (tinier even than Ladyfingers), Blue Java (‘like ice cream’), Red Dakkas and plantains. I want to know more about plantains, the larger members of the banana family, that rarely crop up in recipes unless they’re West Indian. Neville tells me they’re a lot starchier and lower in sugar than the standard banana.
‘They’re more a cooking banana’, he says, mentioning later that he and his wife will cook with them about once a week, with fish or pork most commonly. ‘They’re not as easy to grow as other types’, he says. ‘You need to take more care of them as pests get to them.’ Rarely eaten raw, they’re treated more as a vegetable than a fruit in cooking – baked, roasted, fried – and once the flesh is processed it can be made into a flour then transformed into baked goods like bread and cakes.
Then there’s these red bananas, the Red Dakkas. A bit sweeter and creamier than ordinary bananas; Neville says they are rarer and are also relatively unknown, ‘No one grows them because they’re harder to grow’.
Does he ever get sick of bananas, I ask? ‘Some days’, he replies, ‘I do feel sick of the whole thing. My son is slowly taking over – so maybe another couple of years!’.
You will find Neville Singh and his glorious bounty of bananas every Tuesday at New Brighton Farmers Market from 8–11am and every Friday at Mullum Farmers Market from 7–11am.