Food history: Bananas Foster

This food history is almost embarrassingly short and sweet.

Most of the time with Food History posts, it is difficult to decipher the background of a dish, because many meals simply evolve and grow over time. Or, the food item can be traced so far back the precise origin is unclear.

Then there are the biggies like coffee and ketchup, where the history is so expansive it’s impossible to cover it all in one blog post.

But with Bananas Foster, we’ve got the exact, undisputed, quick history right here.

By definition, Bananas Foster is a dessert of lengthwise-sliced bananas sauteed in rum, banana liqueur, and brown sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. When the bananas have been softened and start to brown, the cook can tip the pan to set the alcohol on fire. 

Bananas Foster hails from New Orleans, circa 1951. During that time, the southern city was utilized as a port of entry for bananas being imported from Central America and South America.

With a good number of bananas on his hands, Owen Brennan, owner of Brennan’s Restaurant, asked his chef, Paul Blange, to incorporate the plentiful fruit into a new dessert. In addition, Holiday Magazine had asked Brennan to provide a new and exciting recipe to include in an article on the restaurant.

Blange did indeed come up with Bananas Foster, which he named after a good friend named Richard Foster. Foster was a New Orleans business leader who served on the New Orleans Crime Commission, an effort to clean up the French Quarter.

Little did Brennan, Blange, and Foster know what an international success the flaming dessert would become.

In more recent years, Brennan’s Restaurant has gone through some difficulties, including a trademark infringement suit over the family name and bankruptcy. Inevitably the eatery closed.

However, as recently as June and July of this year media outlets announced Brennan’s plan to reopen. According to their website, they’re reopening this fall which would be. . .right about now.

Hopefully they do open their doors again, so patrons can still enjoy Bananas Foster at the historical restaurant where it was first created.

If you’d like to read more about New Orleans dishes, check out the history of gumbo, and the difference between gumbo and jambalaya.