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Banana Split Festival a sweet reward for Latrobe faithful

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 7:50 p.m.
Banana Split
Banana Split
Great American Banana Split Festival logo
Great American Banana Split Festival
Great American Banana Split Festival logo
Exterior photo of Strickler’s Pharmacy in Latrobe, home of the original Banana Split.
Harry Frye, Latrobe Art Center
Exterior photo of Strickler’s Pharmacy in Latrobe, home of the original Banana Split.
Lunch counter inside Strickler's Pharmacy in Latrobe, homeof the original Banana Split.
Harry Frye, Latrobe Art Center
Lunch counter inside Strickler's Pharmacy in Latrobe, homeof the original Banana Split.
Honey Pomegranate Banana Split
Honey Pomegranate Banana Split
Banana Berry Splitz
Banana Berry Splitz

It's not unusual to have ice cream at special celebrations, but this weekend in Latrobe, an ice-cream treat will be the reason for the party.

The classic banana split — that decadent frozen concoction of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream anchored by a sliced banana, covered with pineapple and strawberry toppings and chocolate syrup, and garnished with whipped cream, chopped nuts and a cherry — will be feted in its official birthplace.

The Great American Banana Split Celebration will take place Aug. 23 through 25 in downtown Latrobe and on the St. Vincent campus in Unity. The celebration coincides with National Banana Split Day on Aug. 25.

The city of Latrobe spent 18 months winning approval for an historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recognizing the town as the birthplace for the banana split, says Jarod Trunzo, assistant to the city manager of Latrobe.

The marker's dedication ceremony is planned for Aug. 23.

Completing the nomination forms took six months.

Two other towns — Wilmington, Ohio, and Boston, Mass. — also claimed the honor, so the nominators knew they would have to make a solid case.

“We really wanted to dig to get information,” says Trunzo, who explains that the search for documentation involved interns, a local historical society and people who had known David E. (“Doc”) Strickler, who is credited with creating and selling the first version of this edible work-of-art dish in Latrobe in 1904 as well as designing its signature serving dish.

“It's a 20-something-page application that you have to decide what you are going to use and not use,” Trunzo says. “It takes time.”

The success is worth it, Trunzo says.

“It's the story of the American dream and entrepreneurship,” he adds. “Who knew it would become internationally known?”

Local sources document that the unique ice cream sundae that originally cost customers 10 cents was created in 1904 by Strickler, an apprentice pharmacist at Tassel Pharmacy on Ligonier Street. Strickler came up with the concept of the “banana boat,” a glass dish specially designed to accommodate the banana split's elongated shape, and had them made by Westmoreland Glass Co. in Grapeville.

Strickler eventually purchased the pharmacy, which he renamed Strickler's Pharmacy. The City of Latrobe celebrated the 100th anniversary of the banana split in 2004, the same year the National Ice Cream Retailers Association declared Latrobe as the dessert's birthplace.

The historical marker will be dedicated at a ceremony at the site of the original Tassel Pharmacy, where, according to local history, St. Vincent College students were the first to enjoy banana splits.

“We take great pride in that tradition,” St. Vincent spokesman Don Orlando says. The college is making sure that all 477 incoming St. Vincent freshmen have an opportunity to participate in the dedication. On Friday, the students will be given commemorative T-shirts and escorted by bus to downtown Latrobe to gather around the marker for the ceremony.

St. Vincent also will sponsor the Aug. 25 activities at the campus, which include a banana-peeling flash mob on the field of the college football stadium, Chuck Noll Field. Orlando says the plan is for participants to each raise a banana together in a “torch-like” fashion and, after a countdown, to peel the fruit en masse. After the flash mob event, the students are expected to head for the Robert S. Carey Student Center gymnasium to make their own variations of banana splits at several do-it-yourself banana split bars set up in the gym.

William Goldfield, Dole's director of corporate communications, says his company is planning to truck in 5,000 bananas for the weekend bash as part of its coast-to-coast Peel the Love Food Truck Tour this summer.

“It's been a lot of fun, and we're really excited,” Orlando says. “The place is going bananas — literally.”

Barb Machen of Latrobe will be among those taking part in the weekend festivities.

Machen, 77, worked “some 30 years” at the now-famous drug store starting in the early 1950s, taking time off to raise her son and daughter. She has fond memories of her only place of employment, where she says “I made plenty of banana splits.”

She recalls serving ice cream behind the counter at the soda fountain to workers at the Kennametal offices down the street from the pharmacy. At noontime, employees would file into the store, where she'd serve up double scoops of ice cream and splits. In her early years at the store, Borden's ice cream sold for 37 cents a pint, she says.

Local businessman Joe Greubel, son of the founder of Latrobe-based Valley Dairy, which still serves a banana split based on Strickler's, will serve as honorary co-chair of the celebration, along with Dole's Bobby Banana, a 6-foot walk-around character.

The original soda fountain from Strickler's Drug Store will be part of a special display in the art center's front window throughout the weekend.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media. Alice T. Carter contributed to this story.

A healthy banana split? Dole has it

Dole Fresh Fruit has come up with a few healthier alternatives to the traditional banana split, by substituting vanilla sorbet and Greek yogurt for ice cream, going heavy on the fresh fruit and cutting out the sugary toppings.

“It is possible to enjoy your banana splits and eat responsibly at the same time,” company spokesman William Goldfield says.

Bananas pack a nutritional punch since they are fat-free, cholesterol-free and contain very little sodium. And they're a good source of vitamins and nutrients, especially vitamins B6 and C, potassium, manganese and dietary fiber. Just one medium banana provides 25 percent of the recommended Daily Values of vitamin B6, 20 percent of vitamin C, 15 percent of manganese, 13 percent of potassium and 12 percent of fiber.

Honey Pomegranate Banana Split

1 tablespoon 100-percent pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 firm, large banana, cut in half lengthwise

3 scoops vanilla Greek frozen yogurt

1 tablespoon almonds, sliced and toasted

1 tablespoon unsweetened shaved coconut

1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds

Combine the pomegranate juice and honey in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the banana halves in a dessert dish. Arrange frozen yogurt between the banana halves.

Drizzle honey pomegranate syrup over the frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with almonds, coconut and pomegranate seeds.

Makes 1 serving.

Banana Berry Splitz

1 1 / 2 cups strawberries, sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1 / 2 cups pineapple, finely chopped

3 medium bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise

6 small scoops vanilla sorbet

1 / 2 cup blueberries or raspberries (red, yellow or both)

Fresh mint sprigs (optional)

Mash the strawberries with sugar in a medium bowl; set aside.

Arrange the banana halves in 3 banana-split dishes. Divide the pineapple chunks down the center of each dish.

Place 2 scoops of sorbet on top of each; spoon the mashed strawberries over the sorbet. Top with blueberries. Garnish with mint, if desired.

Makes 3 servings.

All-American Banana Split

1 ripe banana, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 scoop each chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream

2 tablespoons bottled butterscotch topping

2 tablespoons chocolate flavored syrup

1 tablespoon chopped pecans or walnuts

Whipped cream

1 maraschino cherry

Place the banana halves in a dessert dish. Arrange the ice cream between the banana halves.

Drizzle butterscotch topping and chocolate syrup over the ice cream. Sprinkle with nuts; top with whipped cream and cherry.

Makes 1 serving.


Michigan's Cherry Banana Split: Omit the butterscotch sauce. Prepare the banana split as directed and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of cherry preserves.

New Orleans Banana Split Foster: Omit the butterscotch sauce and chocolate syrup. Heat 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar, 1 tablespoon margarine and 1 / 2 teaspoon rum or vanilla extract in a skillet, until melted. Add the banana, cut-side down; cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown on bottom. Prepare the banana split as directed and drizzle with rum sauce.

Snow Island Banana Split: Omit the chocolate syrup and nuts. Prepare the banana split as directed and sprinkle with 1 / 4 cup drained Dole Crushed Pineapple and 2 tablespoons toasted flaked coconut.

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