Only Southerners Know The Right Way To Make A Banana Sandwich

Here's how to make it and the history behind bananas in the U.S.

Banana Peanut Butter Sandwich
Photo: Lindsay Adler / Getty Images

When you and everyone you know eat something regularly, with relish, it's hard to imagine there are people elsewhere who have never even heard of it. Friends, people outside the South have never had a banana sandwich.

What is a Southern Banana Sandwich?

The construct is that of a tomato sandwich: flimsy white bread, Duke's, sliced banana—lightning quick and delightful. While some people replace the mayo with peanut butter, others hit the trifecta with all three. The sandwiches are a little sweet and savory, pillowy soft with a slight squish. Many a Southerner is more Team PB&B than PB&J.

Data tells us the average American eats 26 pounds of bananas a year. We are unlikely to be moderate in our consumption in the South. The annual tally per Southern used in sandwiches and pudding alone must be staggering. It's a whole bunch.

History of Bananas in the U.S.

Bananas grow in only a tiny sliver of the South, yet they are so commonplace on our kitchen counters that one might suspect they are native. Near Silver Lake, Florida, back in 1876, someone tried to establish a commercial banana farm. It didn't succeed because the climate wasn't hot and humid enough. Bananas are still mostly imported from Central and South America.

Since bananas need importing, they were once a pricey luxury. Eventually, bananas became more widespread thanks to an enterprising businessman named Samuel Zemurray. In the book The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King by Rich Cohen, we learn that Zemurray saw his first banana in Selma, Alabama. He paid a visit to Mobile, where the big fruit ships came in to dock in the deep port, and saw piles of bananas discarded as garbage because importers thought that more than two brown freckles on the yellow peel rendered them rotten or inedible. Given that the fruit had been on a slow boat and then transferred onto rail cars that crept along the tracks, unblemished bananas didn't stand a chance.

Zemurray's breakthrough idea was to use the burgeoning telegraph system to let railway station managers know that he and his bananas were en route. The managers and grocery store owners could come to meet the train, ready and waiting to take delivery quickly. There are tales of Zemurray standing in the boxcars and tossing bananas to curious citizens along the way. He had made $100,000 (big bucks now, unimaginable then) the year he turned 18 in the 1890s.

So thanks, Sam, for setting us on a course toward banana sandwiches—the avocado toast of the South.

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