When the idea of getting a canner really looked like it was going to happen, we sat down and made a list of all the things we wanted to can so that we could get an idea of how much space would be necessary and what all we would need to acquire for the canning. One of the things on that list was bananas. So I hit the internet and began looking for how you go about canning bananas. There is very little out there. In fact there was so little that I had to call my local agricultural extension to ask questions about why different agricultural extensions claimed different things. According to the lady who called me back, the funding for testing the canning of bananas isn't as important and spending the funding to can something more "normal." As such different university extension programs might have different ideas about the safest way to can the product. Well, that made some sense. She referred me to the University of Georgia. This is apparently the mecca for anyone interested in home preservation.
As far as I now know, there are two ways to can bananas: puree and chunked. The only thing that everyone seemed to agree with is that you cannot process bananas with water bath canning. A pressure cooker is necessary because they have virtually no acidity.
The University of Minnesota recommends cubing and canning just like you would pumpkin. This is due to their belief that straight pureed banana is too thick to insure the center of the jar has reached the appropriate temperature. So you cut it into one inch chunks, boil it in water for 2 minutes and place into cans covered in the cooking liquid. Provide 1 inch of head space and process for 55 minutes at 11 PSI.
I went with the Univeristy of Georgia's recommendations for fruit puree. Fruit puree was chosen mainly because I am only canning the bananas to use in banana bread. This way, if the processing isn't 100 percent effective I am then going to recook the bananas in the bread at 350 degrees for quite some time. Also if the bananas are already pureed it saves a step later. Due to the amount of discrepancy I wouldn't use this canned banana in baby food or another product you would eat raw right out of the can like, say, applesauce.
Lastly, there are some things that this version of fruit puree won't work for. As stated on the UGA canning website:
Important: These recommendations should not be used with figs, tomatoes, cantaloupe and other melons, papaya, ripe mango or coconut. There are no home canning recommendations available for purees of these products.
After all that, I was feeling fairly confident of the process necessary to can the bananas. Now I just needed to acquire them. Though we don't get a lot of our groceries from Save-A-Lot, they consistently have the lowest price on certain items. Bananas at .33 cents a pound is one of those things. Even more amazing, they sell their bruised or over-ripe bananas for .19 cents a pound! Twenty pounds of bananas later, I was headed home for a day of pureeing.
To make fruit puree for canning, you don't just mash up the fruit. That makes a substance which is way too gooey and dense. Secondly, you cannot water bath can bananas, so you have to have a pressure canner. Lastly, it also helps if you have a compost bin. After peeling that many bananas, I had quite a mound of waste which gladly filled up the compost bin with much helpful potassium!
Now that they were peeled, I broke the bananas into pieces and placed them in a medium sized stock pot along with the designated amount of water. This water is used to not only help in softening the fruit, but also to keep the sugar within it from burning to the bottom. For each quart of fruit, add 1 cup of water. I overshot this when I guesstimated and added eight cups (it should have been 6). It worked out fine, only I had quite a bit of runny banana glop left over when I strained the bananas out. Place the bananas on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. I will warn you, the smell of cooking bananas is kinda nauseating. I don't know what there is about it, but definitely not a cozy, warm banana bread smell that I was hoping for. I decided to open up all the windows and doors hoping to flush it out as fast as possible. When the fruit starts to soften up and get all smudgy you can start to chop up any of the larger peices with a slotted spoon to speed the process or just wait another five minutes or so for it to all fall apart by itself. Using a slotted spoon I scooped the mushy banana goo out and into pint jars. Some people may opt to processe the goo in a blender, food mill, or food processer to make it nice and smooth. Twenty pounds (actually, I think it was 21 pounds) filled a dozen pint jars almost exactly. After filling I used a butter knife to remove bubbles, wiped the rims and placed them into the canner. Process for eight minutes at six PSI.
One odd thing I will let you know is that bananas turn pink when they are canned. I have no idea why, but almost thirty pints of bananas later, they are all pink. The first batch were canned in apple juice instead of water and I figured that was why. Um...no. The second round were canned in just plain old tap water and they are just as pink. It honestly kinda creeps me out! But, when I think back to The Spicy Barracudas baby food, most all the banana items were an odd sort of off-pink color. So many canned banana questions, so little time!
In reality it took much, much longer just to find out how I was supposed to can the bananas than it did to actually do the canning. I find this rather ironic, and a little silly. By the end of the whole research process it was no longer about just canning bananas for me. It became necessary for my stubborn self to know just why on earth this had to be so complicated! The results were well worth it, however, when there is chocolate banana bread on the line. With the thirty pints we now have an entire years worth of bananas and all for under 15 dollars!
Chocolate Banana Bread
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 large (3 medium) eggs
1 pint mashed banana (2 cups)
2/3 cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa
1 Tblspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans
Grease muffin tins and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and banana till combined. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Add the flour mixture to the banana goo in thirds, mixing thoroughly in between each addition. Fold in pecans. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. To make as bread, bake in 9x5 loaf pan for 60-75 minutes.