Escaping a cold and rainy January afternoon

It’s a cold and rainy afternoon in January. I just can’t help letting my thoughts wander back to a mere four weeks ago when I was enjoying the warmer and sunnier climes of southern India. The temptation to write another blog post about the trip – wrapped up in the guise of a post about plants – is impossible to resist.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about growing drinks, a thinly veiled excuse to share some photos of the beautiful tea and coffee plantations. This time it’s the turn of coconut and banana plants. In India, as in other parts of Asia, these plants are everywhere and every part of them seems to be put to use.

First up, the ubiquitous banana: the plants, the fruit and the leaves. Banana plants seem to grow just about everywhere. Rows and rows of lush green banana plants line roads and backwaters. They are often inter-planted with coconuts, are common in domestic gardens and can be seen in towns in just about every possible location. Of course, the fruit is on sale all over the place, bunch after bunch of bananas lined up in street stalls. Large and small, green, yellow and even red, and every single one a lot tastier that what you find here in the supermarket.

There are many uses of banana leaves in cooking: a ‘fish fry’ of fish and spices wrapped in a banana leaf then grilled is delicious. Takeaway food is often wrapped up in a leaf then newspaper. Better still, pieces of banana leaf are used as plates in restaurants when serving up thali lunch – here’s me looking very pleased at the prospect of tucking in at one of the many excellent vegetarian cafes we frequented during our trip.

Lots of yummy things on a banana leaf. Fingers poised to dive in.

 

 

A diy step to help shimmy up the coconut palm

A lovely bunch of coconuts (man with machete nearby)

Secondly, coconuts. It’s not uncommon to see a pile of coconuts in the street accompanied by a man armed with a machete and a bunch of straws, keen to give you a drink of coconut milk in an instant. A more potent brew sourced from coconut palms is toddy. The sap is extracted and collected by a toddy tapper who shimmies up the tree using some ‘steps’ fashioned from coconuts and tied onto the trunk. The sap starts to ferment as soon as it has been tapped and produces a sweet and intoxicating liquor fairly quickly. I passed on the opportunity to sample toddy which I mildly regret…

 

 

 

 

A grove of coconut palms

Some coconut palm fronds from the thatched roof, and a fine view

And here’s just another excuse to remember the amazing treehouse we stayed in during our trip. This had thatch fashioned from dried coconut palm fronds. And then there was that rather cute ‘coconut cottage’ we stayed in constructed from 70 year-old coconut wood which has a beautiful dark grain. Did you know you can buy coconut wood flooring? I do now.

About five minutes of research has shown me that we only saw a tiny fraction of the ways in which all parts of banana and coconut plants are used for all sorts of purposes. I can’t think of a plant grown in this country that is quite so versatile. In any event, our health and safety culture combined with a ready supply of cheap manmade materials means there is little incentive to retain and use plant by-products for packaging, containers or anything else. I’m sure there are good examples of this happening here though – know of any?

Anyway, back to the cold and dreary January afternoon…

 

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