What discussion of Bananas Foster would be complete without at least a passing reference to its other key ingredient: rum. Talk about a cursed commodity, rum was one of the three pillars of the notorious Traingle Trade which we all learned about in grade school. Need a refresher? Thought not. Here’s one anyway:
The Triangle Trade began around 1700. Its foundation was sugar, a commodity produced in the Caribbean (known then as the West Indies), and so labor-intensive that it required a large pool of slave labor to produce. That slave labor came of course from Africa.
Now, as I discussed a couple of months back in a lengthy post on sugar refining, the sugar-making process creates a number of waste products, one of which is molasses (basically a sweet goo of burnt cane bits and complex sugars). Most of the time, that molasses was sold as a cheap sweetener to the colonies and Europe. Yet sometimes it sat around and fermented. Historians say it was probably plantation slaves that first began to drink this early grog, basically a sugar cane beer, which must have been horrible stuff. But it was a cheap intoxicant, and that’s always popular. Distilled, it became a hard liquor known as rum, which was more popular still. The first proper rum distillery opened on Staten Island in 1664, the molasses shipped up by the boat-load.
But it wasn’t just Colonials who came to appreciate rum. The European peasantry soon developed a taste for the stuff. So shiploads of rum began making their way eastward. The trouble with the arrangement was: what to do with those empty ships once they got back to Europe? Well, those crazy New Worlders can always use more slaves, right? Why not nip down to Africa and pick up a few for the trip back? And so the triangle was complete. More slaves meant more sugar which meant more rum which meant still more slaves, and so on. Of course sugar production wasn’t the only thing that slaves were used for in the New World (it seems to me there was a little thing called cotton in there somewhere). Yet it’s safe to say that it was sugar and rum that really got the slave trade going in earnest.
I’ll think about that tonight as I’m using my slave rum to flame my racist-imperialist bananas. Hmm…there may be a lot more flames waiting for me in the not-too-distant future.