Kate's Cuisine

Sep 21 2011

Cool Bananas!

It’s International Banana Day! And while we may just take it as a day to indulge in the potassium-filled goodness, there is an actual reason for the day. It all began in Fulton, Illinois….

The United States didn’t have refrigerated railroad cars until 1880, when the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad constructed the first. This invention meant that even those who lived in Seattle, New York, Detroit, and all the northern states (and even us up here in Canada) could enjoy tropical fruit like lemons, oranges, and of course – mainly bananas.

Soon, the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad moved the redistribution centre for bananas to Fulton, because it was such a central point between New Orleans and Canada. The United Fruit Co. (which is now the Chiquita company),  soon started shipping bananas, by boat, from South America to New Orleans. From there, the bananas would be taken to the Fulton Ice Plant. There they’d be laid on top of blocks of ice (each one weighed 162 pounds!) before they were taken further North and redistributed to different parts of the country and Canada.

Fulton soon came to be known as “The Banana Capital of the World,” and at one point, more than 70% of the United States’ bananas passed through Fulton. To celebrate the wonderful fruit and all that it brought to the region, Fulton started holding the International Banana Festival every year beginning in the late 1800s. Sometime (it’s thought in the early 1900s,) there was a particularly eager little girl by the name of Carolyn Allen Dunavant. When Carolyn was in the 8th grade in Fulton, Kentucky she wrote a letter to NBC news anchor, Chet Huntly, telling him about the festival and inviting him to come check it out. Huntly accepted the invite, and headed over to Fulton to see what all the banana fuss was about.

Chet Huntly wasn’t the only one who wanted to come check it out, either. The national exposure soon brought other local and national celebrities including Ms. America, Ms. Kentucky, Ms. Tennessee, Ms. Dairy Princess, governors, senators, congressmen, and the United States State Department. Officials from Columbia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries from where the bananas came also came to the festival to take part in the fun.

The Festival has gone through a lot of changes over the years. When it first began, young teenagers from South America would come weeks before the festival started. They would share their own experiences with American teenagers and teach them not only about the wonderful bananas they were now enjoying, but also all other aspects of South American life and culture. Much later, in the 1990s, the Festival was actually stopped for a short period; but it wasn’t long before town officials realized the importance of the Festival and everything it symbolized, and started it back up again.

The Festival has been back up and running for several years and has everything from carnival rides and games, a parade, and of course, plenty of bananas to go around! The biggest attraction is always the 1-ton banana pudding, which is thought to be the biggest in the world. The pudding is marched through the parade at the beginning of the Festival, and then distributed to all those who attend the Festival. Many states have now also caught Banana Fever and now run their own Banana Festivals on different dates throughout the year.

But it all goes back to Fulton, Illinois, and today is the day – it’s the International Banana Festival! So if you’re in the area, slap on some yellow, get in the spirit, and head out to the festival! It’s a great day to celebrate bananas!

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Cool Bananas!”

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