Banana split remains popular summer diversion more than a century later (with photo gallery)

Cool banana splits remain popular at local ice cream stands and restaurants more than 100 years afte
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People squeeze oranges, set cherries on fire and disembowel apples.

Bananas might receive the toughest sentence — they are often sliced in half, from top to bottom. It’s the key move in the execution of a banana split.

The cool banana dessert remains popular at local ice cream stands and restaurants more than 100 years after its introduction.

“They’re big sellers, especially among the older crowd,” said Domenico Albanese, who owns the Corner Ice Cream Store on Route 146 in Guilderland. “Personally, I’m not a big banana split fan. I think it’s the fruit mixed with the ice cream that people love.”

Domenico’s father, Frank Albanese, was a big banana fan when he opened the Corner ice cream cafe — then at the intersection of Routes 20 and 146 — in 1981. “When he started, he didn’t know anything about ice cream, but he knew he had to have banana splits on the menu,” Domenico Albanese said. “That’s the backbone of the ice cream store.”

Tracing origin

According to Joe Greubel, president of Valley Dairy in Latrobe, Pa., and author of “Ice Cream Joe — The Valley Dairy Story,” the first banana split was constructed and consumed in Latrobe in 1904. David Strickler was an optometrist who ran a pharmacy in town. He used his bananas-and-ice cream formula to attract students from nearby Saint Vincent College. The splits became popular, and kids took the ice cream smorgasbord idea home to their hometowns.

“It’s kind of the all-American dessert,” Greubel said. “If there’s anything on the downside of banana splits, it has to be they’re a pretty hefty dessert. In today’s world, they might be a good dessert for two to share. We’ve come up with something very clever — we have a mini banana split so you don’t have to buy the full-sized one. That has helped rejuvenate a lot of interest in the banana split.”

Greubel said economics also play a role in splits’ stability. Bananas have always been available, he said, and they’ve always been reasonably priced. “They’ve stayed steady in price structure,” Greubel said. “Bananas and eggs haven’t changed a whole heck of a lot over the years.”

Tom Mailey, spokesman for the 328-store Stewart’s Shops chain, said splits sell sensationally for the company.

“In a normal week, we’ll sell over 3,000,” he said. “On weeks when they’re on promo, we’ll be north of 10,000 per week.

Mailey said part of the banana appeal is nostalgia.

“I was talking to a manager about this and he said it’s still a great reward to yourself, a treat,” Mailey said. “It’s different from what you might normally have. You probably had them as a kid, so sometimes it’s fun to go back when you’re not a kid.”

Buyers can also justify the purpose because of the fruit content.

“How can it not be healthy?” Mailey asked.

Traditional ice cream splits start with singular scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream. The banana slices are placed on the sides of the scoops; the ice cream and banana are covered with strawberries, pineapple and hot fudge (or chocolate syrup) and those toppings are covered with whipped cream and peanuts. Candy sprinkles are also used.

Albanese says part of the appeal comes with the presentation.

“I’ve got a girl who just started working here this year, and she loves making banana splits and the customers know she loves making banana splits,” Albanese said. “She makes good ones, and especially on antique car nights [Thursdays], a lot of the guys get banana splits.”

Changing things up

There are some odd variations.

“I get a lot of requests for banana splits without the bananas,” Albanese added. “They like the long dish, but they don’t want the bananas in there.”

Some people don’t want the long dish, either.

“We also have an upside-down banana split,” Albanese said. “It’s in a tall drinking cup. Instead of cutting it the long way, you layer it in the cup with all the same toppings.”

Theresa Sorensen, who has owned Amsterdam’s longtime Fariello’s Confectionery for the past four years, gives the classic dessert a touch of elegance. She serves her splits in a glass relish dish, 16 inches long and 4 inches deep.

“I think people like the taste in glassware,” she said. “Who doesn’t like banana and chocolate? For most people in the summer, that will be their supper.”

Some people like different flavors, but still retain the banana in its starring role. “They like peanut butter, dark fudge, marshmallows,” Sorensen said. “The younger crowd is more adventurous than my older crowd.”

Dave Gazillo, who owns Poppy’s Ice Cream in Rotterdam, said his clients are even more adventurous.

“We have over 50 flavors; they put anything they want into them,” Gazillo said. “We have black cherry, peach, orange-pineapple, mint chocolate chip. We do it with every ice cream, but I think the most popular are the chocolate peanut butter, moose tracks — like a vanilla base with peanut butter cups in it and chocolate chip chunks. I have a lot of people who will do it with the mint chips.

Other customers double up on the flavors.

“We have people who will eat two of them,” Gazillo said. “That’s a lot of ice cream.”

Celebrating summer

Dan Roerig sells large and miniature banana splits at his red train car ice cream stand at Dan’s Miniature Golf in Malta.

“They sell a lot more on the weekend,” Roerig said. “I think people are in that weekend mood-splurge kind of thing. Maybe it’s after pay day or something.”

Roerig also said splits seem to represent summer openers and closers for many people. They’ll get one when the stand opens at the end of April, when warmer weather is just beginning. And they’ll close their summers with a split, maybe after a steady diet of ice cream cones in June, July and August.

“They’re never going to go away,” Roerig said of the cool desserts. “And if they see somebody in line that gets one, they say ‘Ooh-Ahh’ and then they think about getting one.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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