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.