There’s no doubting the banana split has enduring appeal. The fact that it has been around for more than 100 years makes it a definitive classic. And like many classics, it has been the cause of some controversy. Its place of origin is hotly contested by the towns of Latrobe in Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Ohio, with little conclusive evidence to settle this century-long title-fight.
In the Latrobe corner is a 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist named David Strickler. In 1904, he was credited with creating this version of the sundae at the soda fountain where he worked, Tassel Pharmacy. It cost 10 cents, which was considered exorbitant – twice the price of other sundaes served at the time. But this did nothing to dampen the popularity of the dish, which was a hit with the town’s university students, and became famous through word of mouth.
In the Wilmington corner, 1907, restaurant owner David Hazard, keen to attract university students during a quiet winter, staged a contest for employees to come up with the best sundae. Unimpressed by the submissions, he turned his own hand to the challenge and came up with – you guessed it – the banana split.
It seems obvious, looking at the dates, that Latrobe must take credit for the invention – and this conclusion was endorsed by the US National Ice Cream Retailers Association, which certified the city as the official birthplace of the banana split.
Regardless, the dessert’s earliest incarnation was an over-the-top confection consisting of a banana split lengthways in two, which sandwiched a scoop each of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice-creams. The strawberry ice-cream was topped with strawberry syrup, the chocolate ice-cream with chocolate syrup and the vanilla ice-cream with pineapple syrup. Then, the lot was covered with whipped cream and scattered with maraschino cherries and crushed nuts.
We’ve streamlined it a little. For us, it’s about getting the basics right. First, seek out a perfectly ripe banana. Quality vanilla ice-cream is a must, as is freshly whipped cream. Pile it all into a chilled bowl or sundae boat and smother the lot in fudgy chocolate sauce (hot or cold, it’s up to you, but it must be made with couverture, of course). Add some salty peanut brittle for extra texture and you’ve got a classic dish, right there.
It’s the essence of simplicity – banana, ice-cream and chocolate sauce – but when it’s done well, a banana split is one of the most satisfying and indulgent desserts around.