A Taste of Childhood

Whilst some foods are pertinent to the quirks of our own families, sometimes to the point that other people look at us as if to say “What a bunch of weirdos! Who has mayonnaise with gravy??” other foods are so deeply ingrained within the global culinary awakening of childhood that it is almost as if a worldwide brainwashing has taken place.
What child from the 80s doesn’t remember being driven to the local diner or greasy spoon and fed burgers, milkshakes and a ooey, gooey banana split or a chocolate sundae to finish?
In my case, the burger and fries were just preamble, the necessary main course leading up to the dessert. Of course, I loved every greasy, calorific mouthful, the Thousand Island dressing dripping all over my hands, and the salty, vinegar laced chips, almost too hot to eat. This was all washed down with a soda stream fizzy drink, usually Coca Cola, which I wasn’t allowed at home. Even today, I drink Coke only with junk food (or scotch), the two seemed so intertwined.
And then, once the burger had been consumed and the chips devoured, only then could I choose which whipped cream covered, sugar engorged sweet I could have.
Sometimes it was the Double Layer Chocolate Gateau, always decorated with a rapidly dissolving whorl of cream from a can. Other times, a scoop or two of plain old ice cream. Mostly though I would always go for the Banana Split, depending on who was paying. A chipped glass dish, tinged a faded green through age, filled with sliced bananas, vanilla ice cream – chocolate if you’re eating in a high-class establishment like Wimpy – chocolate sauce, chopped hazelnuts, whipped cream and maybe a cherry. To an eight year old, this is a little bit of heaven in a grubby fast-food booth with oleaginous walls.
I had never thought of replicating this old-fashioned but conversely timeless diner classic at home. When you reach a certain age though, Banana Splits seem hopelessly uncool, a bit like tinned Fruit Salad or Prawn Cocktail. Never is this more pertinent in England, a country full of food snobs. However, times are changing. People are rebelling against this food snobbery and want food like we used to eat. Restaurants no longer cringe at the thought of serving Shepherds Pie (albeit in a twee little dish), and the humble but much maligned Prawn Cocktail has been deconstructed to suit current tastes.
But how could you improve on that childhood classic, the Banana Split? Its appeal lies within its sickly sweet contours, the overabundance of canned whipped cream and cheap ice cream that melts rapidly under the fluorescent lights of cafes.
True, but how many things did we love as children but find it hard to stomach now we are all grown up? I feel bilious at the thought of poking at dead mice now but as a gory 6 year old, I was thrilled when my half feral farm cat, Daisy, deposited them on my bed, a thoughtful gift of love to her mistress. Many ad hoc mouse autopsies took place in my childhood garden.
I can’t watch cartoons much anymore (except perhaps King of the Hill and Wait Til’ Your Father Gets Home), and reruns of Australian Soap Operas leave me cold. As for foods, the idea of Angel Delight or Frozen Chocolate Gateaux or Penny Sweets do not get me salivating. My favourite childhood meal for a while, Steakhouse Grills (100% guaranteed Beef By-Product reformed into the shape a steak!) make me wonder why it is that kids have no taste at all.
But, with a little revamping, the tastes of our childhood can reach a more adult palate. Dorie Greenspan and Pierre Herme, in their wonderful book, Chocolate Desserts, have revived the Banana Split just for grown ups. Rum sozzled raisins replace the famous Maraschino Cherry and rich, dark chocolate ice cream is a fittingly sophisticated tribute to the strawberry or vanilla ice cream of yore. The squirty cream in a can is swapped for thickly whipped dairy cream that doesn’t just evaporate once it hits the plate.
But before you think that this is but a mere shadow of its childhood innocence, the bananas, the chopped nuts and – if you want to replicate our version – a drizzle of hot fudge sauce, still remain. We sautéed our bananas in a little butter and sugar but both agreed this was a step too far – the rawness of bananas is half the charm of the whole dish.
We omitted the alcoholic raisins, simply because we don’t like them that much, and Paul was craving the hot fudge sauce of his childhood so this replaced Dorie’s chocolate sauce. The nuts are entirely optional but the cherry, although missing from our version (due to a store cupboard shortage) is the essential kitsch embellishment.
If you want to recreate this simple but really decadent dessert at home, here's how:

2 Firm but ripe bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise
100ml Double Cream, whipped firmly
Tub of excellent quality Dark Chocolate Ice Cream (or if Vanilla if you prefer).
Chopped Nuts of your choice for sprinkling. We used Pecans but Pistachios, Hazelnuts, Almonds would be great too
Maraschino Cherries for decoration
Hot Fudge Sauce (recipe to follow)
Place the sliced bananas in two serving dishes. Scoop out three balls of the ice cream for each dish and place on top of the bananas.
Then, drizzle over some of the hot fudge sauce, pipe (or spoon) whipped cream on top of that, sprinkle with nuts and finish with a cherry.


Pille said...

Nice and evocative post. Imagine there are kids who never had a banana in their childhood:) I had my first banana when I moved to Denmark at the age of 18 - they were a total rarity behind the Soviet iron curtain. I do remember queueing for oranges once, however;)

Cheryl said...

What a decadent sundae. These remind me of me and my dad going to the ice cream parlor every Friday night as a child.

wheresmymind said...

Mayo with gravy...I'd say you are British ;) I'll now duck from the fruit flying in my direction

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

I used to love Wimpy. The same one of my childhood is still there! I haven't taken the kids but I might have to now. Every so often my hubby makes banana splits. I even bought a bottle of the squirty cream but the boys didn't really like it. I found it hiding in the back of the fridge recently, way past it's use by date.

valentinA said...

Ho ho, it's decadent alright! How to resist this delicious banana split? I've always loved bananas & you make me wanna try this even if it's quite chilly here:)

Deborah said...

It has been way too long since I have had a banana split. We would always have banana splits growing up when it was a real "treat" night. Yummy!

ros said...

I remember my first banana split, at a friend's fifth birthday meal. I think the memory of that dessert dominated my subconscious mind for years.

I don't think I saw splits after the age of 10 until I came across one on the menu of a Chinese restaurant in Leamington Spa. I got really excited and of course made sure we had time to order it. My boyfriend of the time thought I was crazy.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Extremely decadent indeed! I could just eat one of those now ;-P!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Now that looks good ( even to one who thinks they sound better than they taste)!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Freya, I guess I haven't had a banana split in over 10 years!!
I have tears in my eyes, now. :)

Lydia said...

Oooh, I remember banana splits -- when I was in high school, we'd go to an all-night diner after concerts or movies, and crowd into a booth. We'd order one giant banana split for the table, and share it.

joey said...

I fitting homage to a childhood classic! :)

Nora B. said...

When it comes to banana slpits, the more decadent the better, I say. ;-)

Minik Kus said...

It looks fantastic. I'm one of the kids that grow up without banana split. But who says it is late, huh? I'll try this recipe after going back to Florida ;)

Anonymous said...

I think you mean Dorie Greenspan and not Greenberg!

Saffron said...

hi Freya!
I like this banana split! Today here in Rome is hot again and this kind of food is the one I would like to eat!

Aimée said...

Mmm, brings back memories. As a kid we would roast the banana in their skins in an open fire first, then add some chocolate, ice cream and enjoy. I liked the hot and cold contrast.

Ulrike said...


Kristen said...

Decadent indeed. That looks like one oooeey gooey delicious split!