We’ve been praying to the ice cream gods, asking for yet another excuse to enjoy a banana split. Alas, the heavens have opened up and our prayers have been answered. We’ve received a gift in the form of August 25th, aka the National Day of this delicious dessert. Hailing from a time when soda fountains existed, we’ll look at the origins of the banana dessert. Then, we’ll stop to stare at a delicious world record that Australia recently set.
But first, imagine it’s 1904 and we’re in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Soda jerks (a real job title at the time, the equivalent of Today’s Barista, but serving soda drinks and soda ice creams) were pulling ice cream sodas in various businesses. Not only in ice cream parlors and milk bars, but also dime stores and train stations. Sometimes even hardware stores and pharmacies! The soda fountains served as space to not only grab a refreshment, but to socialize and share the local news. One pharmacist’s apprentice, David Evans Strickler, had access to one of the soda fountains at the pharmacy he worked at. So understandably, he played with various sundae inventions when he had downtime.
One of his creations proved very popular with the patrons. It was a banana-based sundae with three scoops of ice cream. In other words, a deadly combination that soon led to obsession. Locals began flocking to the pharmacy to try it. Because these sundaes were big enough to split with a friend, they were more than happy to pay twice the price of a normal sundae for these banana desserts.
A similar story was unfolding that same year, just west of Pennsylvania, in Columbus, Ohio. Another drug store clerk, Letty Lally, was also working in a pharmacy that was equipped with a soda fountain. Like Strickler, Lally split a banana and served it with ice cream, whipped cream, and syrups. He crowned the sundae the “567” – named after the street number where the pharmacy was located. Pharmacy visitors couldn’t get enough of the new sundae and the popularity only grew.
It’s hard to say who was the first to create the banana split dessert when you stop to consider all the facts. The two towns have barely three hours of road between them. And it could be that a traveling student filling a medical prescription spread the idea from one pharmacy to the next. What we can be sure of is that the popularity of soda fountains continued to grow right up until the 1950s when they reached their peak.
Today it might be difficult to find a soda fountain tucked away in the corner of a convenience store. If you’re craving one, the next best option is an ice cream parlor or your own kitchen. But spare a thought for the banana farming town of Innisfail, Australia. They managed to make the history books with their whopping 8.04km banana split dessert. It took 18 months of preparation to create this record-breaking dessert. The townspeople and other guests attending the Feast of the Senses Food Festival shared it amongst themselves. You can see pictures of the record-breaking dessert and volunteers here!
While you may not be breaking their record any time soon, bon appetit if you’re sharing a banana split today.