"Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today!" is a chorus heard in Gulfport since 1920 (two years before the song), when the port first began to bear fruit. Of the yellow variety.
In the 96 years that have followed the first delivery of imported bananas at the Port of Gulfport, bananas have done a slipping and sliding act. The jokes, of course, are unavoidable. Surely you've heard or read some of them through the years.
Gulfport is going bananas. Bananas have lots of appeal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Bananas give the port a slip. And one of my favorites, "Yes, N.O. Has No Bananas," is an old headline in a New Orleans newspaper that Gulfport once again snatched away Louisiana's banana business.
Back and forth
The push-me pull-you act between New Orleans and Gulfport continues to this day as the two ports vie over the job-creating banana business. In fact, it was in the news last year when Chiquita left Gulfport for New Orleans. And it was in the news earlier this month when Chiquita announced it might leave New Orleans.
As of this writing, no official announcement has named Gulfport in this possible banana flip.
Did you know there was a time when one out of every five bananas eaten in the United States was first brought into the Port of Gulfport? In a week or two, we'll take a closer look at this fascinating on-again, off-again local history, but for now, I want to concentrate on 101 ways to eat bananas.
Banana pudding. Bananas Foster. Banana bread. Banana milk shakes. Banana lassies. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Bananas, corn flakes and milk. Bananas in the lunch box. Banana cream pie. Banana pancakes.
A good banana is best eaten au naturale, to be savored bite by ungarnished bite. But when you have bunches and bunches of bananas, you find other less healthy but oh-so-tasty ways to eat them. And once upon a time, the Bergeron family had bunches and bunches of bananas. I became an expert at making from-scratch banana pudding. No such thing as instant pudding for me.
When I read the Sun Herald story a few days ago about Chiquita possibly leaving New Orleans, my brain switched to memory mode. I am a teenager, standing on the deck of the trawler The Little Jug after a night and day of dragging for shrimp and picking the catch. I am a bit smelly and in need of a bath, a bit sunburned, my hands sore and pricked from shrimp thorns.
We've just unloaded our catch at the shrimp dock -- several impressive barrels of brown shrimp -- and we've tied up to our pier at the Gulfport commercial small craft harbor. The banana dock workers are there waiting, as they sometimes are, holding big bunches of the yellow fruit.
The shrimp boat captain does a trade, so many bunches of bananas for so many pounds of shrimp. This is the 1960s, when bananas are an expensive exotic fruit and Gulf shrimp are plentiful and much cheaper than today. It is a fair trade, although at 21st-century prices, it seems ludicrous.
Even if values were more equal, this trade would never happen today because banana importing is modernized and containerized. Dock workers long ago quit carting off bananas. The story told us back then by the longshoremen was that at the end of a shift, they were allowed to take as many bananas as they could carry. Some were b-i-g guys.
I enjoyed talking to them, hearing their tales of unwanted hitchhikers in the banana cargoes, such scary stuff as dangerous insects and snakes. One even told me of finding a tarantula.
Perhaps it's my imagination, but bananas seemed more flavorful in those days. Different varieties do have different tastes, and disease has affected production of some of the most popular varieties. Today, banana growers must consider how well they grow and ship as well as how good they taste.
Why this love affair with bananas? For seven summers in high school and college, I crewed on a shrimp boat for college money. The hard work was offset by fresh air and the joy of working on the water, and for me, shrimping was preferable and more profitable than flipping hamburgers.
Happily, the banana became my lagniappe, my "little something extra."
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or c/o Sun Herald Newsroom, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.