This one’s been percolating in the back of my head pretty much since day one of the project. Parts of it have been bubbling away in the actual physical world since late 2019, creeping toward readiness.
The time has come.
From Mrs Quoad and her Disgusting English Candy Drill for drink ninety-nine, on to crest the summit of one hundred with Pirate Prentice and another of the most beloved scenes in the Pynchonian oeuvre…
The banana breakfast.
Here among the teetering stacks of banana pancakes, between the gooey puddles of banana blancmange, behind the banana smoothies, we will come by drink one hundred and maybe even a sneaky one-oh-one.
Captain Prentice gives us plenty to work with. Early in Gravity’s Rainbow, before a new reader has the chance to lose their way too badly in the bewildering Slothropian thickets, Pirate cooks up a mighty feast of assorted yellow goos fit to coat “all the booze-corroded stomachs of England”:
With a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate’s mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table […] crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded in the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out of a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre […] . . . tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsful of banana mead . . . banana croissants and banana kreplach, and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyrenees also containing a clandestine radio transmitter . . .Gravity’s Rainbow, p. 10
The generosity and warmth of Pirate’s feast unfurls over pages, beating back wartime austerity, defending an island of peace and friendship and food, the “musaceous odor of Breakfast” weaving its warm spell “against falling objects” across Chelsea.
Pynchon scatters similar scenes of preterite camaraderie through many of his novels; this one might be the best. In tribute, with the help of my own ragtag troupe of family and friends, I recreated a mini banana breakfast. We didn’t quite reproduce the whole shebang (I had no concrete scale model of the Jungfrau against which to beat ice for frappes), but it was still a pretty grand affair. We had banana pancakes and banana smoothies. We had bananas flamed in “ancient” brandy.” We even had, thanks to my mother’s remarkable have-a-go attitude and sculpting prowess, mashed bananas in the shape of a British lion rampant (seriously). And oh yeah, we had banana mead!
I’ll let you figure our your own pancakes and smoothies, but let’s have a closer look at a few of those more elaborate breakfast items:
Bananas flamed in ancient brandy
Unless you’re new around here, you’ll be aware that we tend to play pretty fast and loose with dates and vintages. But I’ve gone to some effort to ensure that this brandy is at least a bit ancient. It’s a Comte de Lamaestre Bas Armagnac distilled in 1990. Before you start disputing the antiquity of 1990, consider that I myself was born late that year, meaning the stuff is highly likely to be older than me. Not being in the habit of drinking my elders, that strikes me as ancient enough.
To flame (or let’s go with flambé) the bananas, I followed something like this recipe, with the crucial upgrade of swapping really ancient brandy in for rum. I cut the bananas lengthwise, browned them in a pan with some sugar, then sloshed in the brandy and lit her up. The pan burned blue for a good few minutes. We served the resultant caramelised bananas and sticky brandy sauce atop banana pancakes. They were glorious.
Mashed bananas in the shape of a British lion rampant
Mum originally volunteered to pipe C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre across a blancmange canvas, but decided she could better express herself rendering a rampant British lion in the versatile medium of mashed banana. They called her crazy, they said it couldn’t be done, but the product of her endeavour surpassed all critics’ expectations.
This is the stuff I’ve been thinking about since right back when I was cracking the Chivas Regal. The final product turned out great, although it didn’t follow the model of Pirate’s open fermenting frothing crock too closely. Here is approximately how it went down:
1. Dissolve 6 kg of orange blossom honey in 14 L water at 50 °C.
2. Steep some gingerbread flavoured tea in the must.
3. Cool and transfer to a fermenter with 500 g of raisins.
4. Add yeast and yeast nutrient. Keep adding more nutrient for a few days.
One week later
1. Simmer three large bunches worth of bananas (~1.5 kg) into a goop.
2. Put them in a mesh bag and add to the mead fermenter. Sandwich a plate and cup on top of the bag to keep it submerged in the liquid.
1. Transfer the mead off the banana goop bag into a different vessel for secondary fermentation.
Things weren’t looking great at this point. The mead had fermented much closer to dryness than I’d hoped. Instead of a moderately sweet 12% alcohol desserty thing, it was 16%+ rocket fuel. After ageing a while in secondary, I decided to try adding back a little sweetness to balance the fire:
1. Add a half teaspoon each of potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate to stabilise (knock out the yeast.)
2. Add 180 g of a nice spicy characterful honey and transfer to another vessel.
One week later
1. Bottle! Leave to condition in the bottle for at least three months.
I bottled it in these snazzy little half wine bottles with gold tops and a label combining three key Gravity’s Rainbow motifs: bananas, rockets, and phalluses.
The finished mead has an intense banana aroma with notes to me suggestive of the banana skins, along with a good dose of spicy alcohol. I was a little worried along the way that all the banana would ferment out and fade away, but nope, this has held onto enough bananas to perfume at least half of Chelsea. The taste follows through, balancing a fiery alcohol spice with potent banana flavour and floral honey, plus more spice from that honey I added to backsweeten. It’s pretty dry, but with enough sugar to keep it drinkable. Unlike Pirate’s frothy stuff, I’ve kept it still. The whole package is pretty aggressive, but I’m into it. I will concede it didn’t gain many fans at ten in the morning during our banana breakfast, but it goes a lot better at a more mature hour. It’s a complex, not-too-sweet banana liqueur. (Perhaps we should put some in another King Kong??)
The banana breakfast has been one of the great highlights of this whole mad endeavour for me so far. Thank you to everyone who partook in the making or the eating and drinking. And thanks to all of you for still being here one hundred drinks in! (Strong stomachs indeed.) Plus a very big thank you too to Mr Pynchon himself for providing the warm mad glorious banana-perfumed bulwarks against the cruel cold rocketfalling day that are these wonderful books.
On to the next hundred!