Sunday, June 12, 2016

Nellie's Original Ice Cream Sundaes & Banana Split

Simple, but super tasty creations from the turn of the century!

Ah, ice cream sundaes. Is there any better thing to have when it's hot outside and you're looking to treat yourself? I've been wanting to take some time this summer to talk about this iconic treat because I think it's a really cool example of how one good idea can grow and grow and grow into something pretty spectacular.

We've talked about ice cream and ice cream novelties before, but never quite from this angle. As we all know from when I made home made vanilla ice cream with Caroline, ice cream has been around for a really long time, but the ice cream sundae is a comparatively much more modern invention, which I find kind of hard to believe.

I mean, did it really take until the 1900's for someone to think hey, maybe we should put fruit, candy, cookies, and chocolate on top of this stuff? That just seems crazy to me!

Part of the reason I think that's so difficult to wrap my head around is that today, we have so many different ways to enjoy ice cream! We've got ice cream sandwiches, sundaes, sodas, cones, bars, cakes, you name it. Considering ice cream has bee around for centuries, it just seems weird to think people only enjoyed it in scoopable form for a long, long time.

Admittedly, I don't think I want an oyster ice cream sundae...

We have the rising popularity of ice cream sodas to thank for the eventual creation of the sundae. Originally invented in the 1870's - and discussed more in depth with Julie and Ivy's ice cream floats - ice cream sodas began to cause concern with the older members of American society, who worried that teenagers and young people were being corrupted by the drink. How? Why? Who knows. It's the same argument older generations tend to make about anything new and unfamiliar, and the concern is usually unfounded. Part of the concern came because soda was still seen by many as a medicine, not just a drink, even though we now know soda is pretty bad for you.

Unfortunately for soda shops, a lot of states and counties began passing laws banning the sale of ice cream sodas on Sundays, which meant businesses now had to figure out something else to do to get people coming into their stores to enjoy their ice cream.

Or maybe not. Some people argue that the blue laws had nothing to do with the creation of the sundae, arguing instead that it was just a coincidence that the dish happened to be made on a Sunday which inspired the name. There are several people who claim to have made the first ice cream sundae, but the thing they all have in common is that they came about in the late 1800's, and were very, very simple things.

Two of the claims I decided to reference with my homage to the earliest ice cream sundaes were from Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York. In Two Rivers back in 1881, it's alleged that one Sunday, the owner of Berners' Soda Fountain was asked to drizzle chocolate syrup on vanilla ice cream. The dish became so popular, he started serving it every day of the week, but still called it a "Sunday" thanks to its original exclusivity.

Ithaca's claim comes from 1892. Researchers hunted down the first documented reference to the ice cream sundae in an April 1892 newspaper advertisement for a "Cherry Sunday", which had been invented two days earlier at Platt & Colt Pharmacy by the owner and a Unitarian Church minister. It was a similarly simple dish: chopped candied cherries and cherry syrup over vanilla ice cream.

My version combined the two, and changed the candied cherries to fresh ones, because that's tastier, in my humble opinion. It makes a really pretty sundae, if I do say so myself!

Unsurprisingly, this was super simple to make and definitely hit the spot. I don't think I've ever had a sundae that called itself a sundae with this few toppings, but it was really good, which probably isn't shocking considering it's basically deconstructed Cherry Garcia. If you'd only ever eaten plain ice cream or ice cream sodas before, I can definitely see where this texture and flavor variation would hit the spot and be really exciting.

(Fun fact, my favorite ice cream parlor in Boston called this flavor Cherry Garciaparra, which I always enjoyed because he's my favorite baseball player.)

Once the simpler version had been perfected and spread around the country, people started getting a lot more creative with their ice cream treats. More toppings got added, flavors got changed up, and eventually it snowballed into things like the Kitchen Sink at the Boardwalk Hotel in Disney World. One of the first major forays into more adventurous ice cream sundaes came about in 1904, which means it would have been trendy and new during Samantha and Nellie's series.

The dish came about after a 23 year old pharmacy apprentice returned home to Pennsylvania from a trip to Atlantic City. He saw a soda jerk making a similar dish, and decided to put his own spin on it back home.

You probably think of the banana split as having three different flavors of ice cream in it, but the original was just three scoops of vanilla scooped over a split banana and topped with chocolate syrup, marshmallow, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry. They were originally sold for a dime, and the original creator kept making them until 1965!

So I ended up taking a lot of pictures for this post, even though I was still working against the clock because the heat was making the ice cream turn into soup pretty quickly. In my haste, I realized I'd forgotten one of the key ingredients for the split! Can you guess what it is?

Whipped cream!

That's better.

I'm pretty sure this was the first banana split I've ever actually eaten, so I can't compare the original to the newer tri-flavor version most stores sell today. That said, it was definitely good. I don't know if I'd ever order one to eat on my own though, because I don't usually eat three scoops of ice cream in one day along with a banana and some toppings. I definitely felt a little sick after finishing it, and was kind of unenthusiastic about dinner that night!

Still, it was a lot of fun to look back on some of the earliest examples of ice cream novelties. The sundaes I grew up with are a lot more exotic - and often use a lot less fruit - than these, and while those are fun too, I thought it was kind of cool to get a taste of something that gave the ice cream a little more room to shine than something you could get at Friendly's or Disney World. They're simple, but tasty, and you can absolutely see why they're things that took the world by storm when they first arrived on the scene. It's also a really easy way to sample something your favorite Turn of the Century American Girls would have had as a special treat, which is always a win for me! Any time I can convince someone to sample a historical recipe and admit it's just as delicious as something you'd get today is a good day for me.

And this definitely does not disappoint!


  1. The cherry sundae looks delicious!! I enjoy a good banana split once in a while, but I have to be in the mood for it. Around here you get all vanilla ice cream, but the toppings are chocolate, strawberry and pineapple.

    1. Ooh, I've never seen one with pineapple before! Sounds like something worth trying. :D

  2. Replies
    1. They were... I'm very tempted to make another one!