Bananas are available all year round, but in the months when there is less fresh seasonal fruit around, bananas are good stand-bys. They are grown in India, China, Africa, South and Central America, Australia and the Caribbean. The Windward Islands, in particular, produce a high-quality crop.
Under-ripe bananas are green and reach their peak when they are yellow, with a very light speckling of brown. At this stage, the starch has been converted to sugar and they have a sweet taste with a firm texture. Over-ripe fruit can be used in cooking, but often the strong "banana" taste is overwhelming. If banana slices are to be used as decoration they need to be dipped briefly, or painted with lemon or lime juice as they discolour on contact with air, then coated with an apricot glaze.
Generally, it is best to mash the bananas for use in cakes, breads and muffins. Banana bread can be varied by using different spices, chocolate, dried fruits and nuts. They can be put, cut in chunks or sliced down their length, in bread-and-butter puddings or crumbles. Try including crushed Amaretti biscuits instead of some of the flour and sugar in the topping.
In season: all year - from different parts of the world
Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine in London