Monday, August 23, 2010


When did I stop eating banana splits? I know why I stopped, but exactly when that happened is a historical fact I can't remember. It was a long time ago at any rate.

You may guess (and be close) that the reason I stopped eating them was because they were entirely too fattening. That's a good reason, but also it may have been because I couldn't ever guarantee that the bananas wouldn't be over-ripe. If there is one smell I cannot stand, it is the smell of over-ripe bananas. I can tolerate the smell if I'm going to use them for making banana bread, but if my intent is to have them uncooked in any form, then they MUST be firm and not smelly. I never order banana cream pie for that same reason -- I can't guarantee that the bananas will be suitable and edible.

OK, so now you know about me and bananas, so let's go back to banana splits.

Anyone who lived in the Pomona/Ontario area in the 1960s frequented the Betsy Ross Ice Cream Parlor on Foothill Boulevard. Oh my gosh, how we loved that place. I was already having to worry about my girlish figure during those years, but every so often the clamoring of the kids for a trip to Betsy Ross got so loud that our family just had to make a trip there. Mostly I would just have a tiny little scoop of ice cream with an American Flag on a toothpick stuck in the top while my husband and kids dug into one of the patriotically themed offerings that took the better part of 30 minutes to devour. Once I recall asking the waitress if a banana split could be made for me using a very firm banana - and good old Betsy Ross accommodated me, but I think that one time was the only time and maybe the last time I ever had a banana split.

But there was a banana split in my past that even topped the ones that Betsy made. In the early 1950s I lived in Long Beach about two blocks south of the "Grass Shack" drive in restaurant on PCH near Cherry avenue. In the summers my group of friends and I would stroll up to the Grass Shack where we would order the most wonderful concoctions. At that period in my life I was a skinny, scrawny 90-lb. female weakling, so I never batted an eye when I ordered one of their special banana splits. I'm sure it had a name, but that too is history now. Here's the Grass Shack's take-off on the traditional banana split.

Instead of scoops of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream lying on the split banana, they used vanilla, english toffee and pistachio. For toppings they used carmel, pineapple and marshmallow. Lots of whipped cream was slathered across the scoops of ice cream and then topped with generous amounts of fresh toasted coconut. Maraschino cherries of course adorned the peaks, and instead of the flag of Betsy Ross, our concoction had a little hula girl on a toothpick. The bananas were always firm and the coconut fresh. How I was able to eat that much sweet at one sitting I'll never know, but I DO know that nothing has ever tasted as good as that banana split from the Grass Shack.

There did come a time when we moved on from the Grass Shack. When we all started getting our drivers' licenses we most often went down to Grisingers Drive-In where we had discovered fresh Strawberry Pies. We went there on dates because it seems much more lady-like to eat a piece of pie than to dig in to a huge banana split. And then college and adulthood came into our lives and we focused more on what we were going to have for dinner than on what big dessert we were going to have afterwards.

Some years later, long after I'd moved away from Long Beach, the Grass Shack disappeared and a strip mall appeared in its place. Like the disappearance of other old favorites, it made me a bit sad. As my kids were growing up, occasionally I would concoct a mini-version of the Grass Shack banana split to have for a special treat, but for them, their biggest and best memories are of Betsy Ross and her wonderful patriotic goodies.

Foods of our childhood and teenage years remain fresh in our minds as we age. But there is no use trying to duplicate those tastes now. I swear that the impact of calories at least doubles as we age. And if we can get past that, then likely our intestinal system can no longer tolerate all the milk content in ice cream. We just can't eat like we used to when we were teenagers. But I'll bet a few slices of banana in a dish, topped with a scoop of english toffee ice cream and a squirt of Redi-Whip would be do-able, tolerable and satisfying. Don't you think?

1 comment:

Flora Bunda said...

Yours is the only site that I've been able to find any mention of The Grass Shack drive-in in Long Beach. We hung out there in the late 1950s, with guys from a car club, and maybe into the early 1960s.
Years later I worked the graveyard shift at Carrow's restaurant in Santa Barbara, and visitors from Fresno looked forward to their banana splits, but we were out of bananas, so I talked them into having one with cantaloupe, and they were delicious.