As I have mentioned in columns past, one of my favorite things about summer, aside from warmer weather and no snow or freezing rain, is going to an ice cream stand.
Most of the time I just get an ice cream cone. Once upon a time the flavor choice was a quick decision because there were only five or six flavors. Now with the vast menu, plus frozen yogurt, Dole Whip, soft serve and hard serve, I take more time in making my selection than I do actually eating the frozen confection.
On some occasions when I feel a treat is called for I get a hot fudge sundae. On extremely rare occasions when there is some cause to celebrate I might get a banana split. I repeat, this is a very, very rare occasion because the caloric guilt can ruin the enjoyment of the eating experience.
The last time I got an ice cream, the person in front of me got a banana split. I was momentarily tempted, but resisted the urge when I thought about the tightness of my waistband. In fact, I settled on a low-fat sugar-free and unsatisfying ice cream cone.
When the person in front of me was handed his beautiful three-flavored ice cream with bananas, hot fudge, strawberry sauce, pineapple, whipped cream, nuts and cherry, I wiped the drool from my mouth and averted my eyes before my tongue started to protrude. My thoughts turned to what a manic day someone must have had when they invented the banana split.
Lo and behold, the next day in a magazine supplement to the daily paper the feature story was about the banana split and the two towns who take credit for the invention.
It is one of those things that can’t be proven, so Wilmington, Ohio, and Latrobe, Pa., both claim their towns as the birthplace of America’s favorite high-calorie ice cream treat. According to food historian Michael Turnback, author of “The Banana Split Book” (I kid you not), the bragging rights probably go to Latrobe.
As the story goes, it was the summer of 1904 when druggist apprentice David Strickler came up with the three-sundaes-in-one creation in an effort to compete with other soda fountains for something special. Soda fountains were very popular back then and also very competitive.
It was three years later in Wilmington when Ernest R. Hazard, owner of “The Café” held a contest among his employees to create a new dessert. Hazard entered his own contest with what turned out to be the banana split. Naturally, he won because the banana split was so great and what the heck, he owned the business.
One has to wonder what other fantastic creations were made by the other employees of “The Café,” but that’s a bit of information that no one will ever know. The banana split however, lives on and they celebrate it big time in Wilmington with the annual Banana Split Festival, which this year is June 12 and 13.
Interestingly, two towns lay claim to the invention of the sundae as well. Evanston, Ill., and Norfolk, Va., can produce ice cream parlor menus from the late 1880s listing sundaes.
However, food historians, Michael Turnback not being one of them, believe that the ice cream sundae debuted in the mid-1880s in New England. Where in New England is unknown. It is known that religious restriction dictated that ice cream sodas, the most popular dessert of the time, should not be served on Sunday because they contained soda water and that was, in Puritan beliefs, a spirit akin to alcohol and shouldn’t be served on the holy day.
With the soda water removed, one was left with ice cream and sweet syrup and the birth of the sundae, spelled with an “e” instead of a “y” as not to offend. Also, the sundae was only available on Sunday.
I really don’t care who, where or when the banana split and the sundae were created. I’m just glad they were. Fortunately the creations were shared with the rest of the country, and the way I see it that’s a pretty sweet deal for all of America.