FESTIVAL FOCUS: State Banana Pudding Festival of Georgia in Irwinton
The town of Irwinton, Georgia is about 30 miles east of Macon and was founded in 1811 and many people around Middle Georgia know it as the place where the State Banana Pudding Festival of Georgia takes place every year.
This year the festival is scheduled for Saturday, April 1st from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. in Downtown Irwinton.
This unique family-friendly event brings talented cooks together to compete in a contest to make the most delicious banana pudding and also allows local non-profits to raise funds while educating the public about their missions. The festival also includes several other surprising events, like a banana carving contest and a long bike race.
I recently spoke with Donna Asbell of MainStreet Irwinton, one of the founders of the State Banana Pudding Festival of Georgia and the wife of Irwinton's current mayor, Roger Bacon, about how the very first such event took place in 2015.
"My husband and I...were looking for something to do one weekend and we went out to the National Banana Pudding Festival, which is in Centerville, Tennessee. And we walked around [and] had a great time. And we got back home and I was talking to a really good friend of mine, Judy Brown, and I said, "The festival was great, but I think we could do this in Irwinton."
Asbell and her friend first starting planning the festival in 2014 with the first State Banana Pudding Festival of Georgia taking place the next year. MainStreet Irwinton has presented the festival for about the last five years.
Just like at the National Banana Pudding Festival, it isn't only banana puddings that are shown appreciation during this event: local non-profits are a big part of the festival as well.
"During the festival we have a Puddin' Path, which is 7 nonprofits from our area and they make pudding and the participants in the festival get to go through for $5 and taste 14 ounces of pudding from the different nonprofits, and hear about the nonprofits, which is a big deal too," said Asbell.
Participating festival goers then vote for their favorite pudding or for their favorite nonprofit. Asbell describes it as either a vote from the heart or vote from the stomach.
The contest for individuals this year will include 13 participants from around the state who will compete against each other to be declared the winner of the best tasting banana pudding. Five judges will preside over the proceedings and taste the different puddings while blindfolded.
"We have one winner of the individual pudding contest and they are invited to go on to nationals. Of the 8 years [the festival has taken place], I think we sent [a winner] maybe 5 years and we have walked away with the national for three of those years," Asbell said.
One of the unique events taking place at this year's State Banana Pudding Festival is a bicycle race called the Puddin' Pedal. Bikers will race against each other for either 20 or 40 miles, of course stopping at two rest stops for banana pudding along the route.
There will also be a car and tractor show called "Skippin' & Poppin'", a banana carving contest, multiple arts and crafts vendors, live music, and more.
Food trucks serving everything from tacos to jerk chicken will also include some unique takes on banana pudding.
"We have one vendor that is coming who says he has the best banana pudding ice cream ever [and ] we have a funnel cake vendor that's coming that does funnel cake with banana pudding on top," said Asbell.
Last year's festival brought nearly 4,000 people to Irwinton, says Asbell. This is quite a feat considering that Irwinton's current population is a little less than 600 people.
Some isolated storms are forecast to take place on the day of the festival, so be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and look for updates on the current weather conditions closer to the time of this year's State Banana Pudding Festival.
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UPDATE: An April 2nd Facebook post from State Banana Pudding Festival of Georgia declared Jenn Morris the winner of the 2023 State Banana Pudding Festival Individual Contest, with Kathy Thompson winning 2nd place, and Becky Hann winning 3rd place. In the Puddin' Path, Marsha Powers (with her Praline Banana Pudding) won the top spot.