Get the kids, June is the official start of Festival Time in Ohio where almost every weekend we celebrate something with parades, food, games, racing pigs and lawnmowers and even racing worms. It is an inexpensive and fun way to treat the family to a One Tank Trip.
For example one of the earliest festivals is in southwest Ohio in the city of Wilmington, in Clinton County, this year celebrates the 102nd anniversary of the creation of one of America’s favorite desserts, the banana split.
Local historians tell me that the very first banana split, at least in Ohio if not the rest of the world. was created by Ernest Hazard at his restaurant which was in downtown Wilmington way back at the start of the 1900’s.
It was over a century ago that Hazard was trying to come up with a way to attract more students from nearby Wilmington College to his eating place. On a slow day during the winter of 1907 he challenged his employees to an impromptu contest. The winner would be the person who could create the best new ice cream concoction. Something that, he hoped, would appeal to the young college students.
But apparently the employees weren’t very imaginative. So Hazard decided to give them an example of what he had in mind. He took a banana and split it lengthwise to make it look like more. He placed it in a long ice cream dish and placed three dips of ice cream, one each of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, on the split banana. . Then he drizzled chocolate syrup on the chocolate ice cream. He placed bits of Pineapple on the vanilla and a dollop of strawberry jam on the strawberry ice cream. A mound of fresh whipped cream was added and then a sprinkling of chopped nuts and finally he topped it with some Maraschino cherries. Ohio’s, and perhaps the worlds, first banana split was born.
Hazard’s Restaurant is long-gone now and even the building has been torn down, but for the last fifteen years Wilmington has kept the banana split tradition alive by holding a festival each June to celebrate Hazard’s concoction. One of the keepers of the tradition is Mary Gibson whose family operates Gibson’s Goodies, an ice cream store not far from downtown. She offers the Hazard Banana Split recipe on her menu, as well as some modern variations:
“We’ll make it just like the original”, Mary Gibson told me, “Or we can substitute caramel syrup for the pineapple or any other flavor they want.”
She is also the official ice cream maker and supplier for the annual festival which this year will be held on Friday and Saturday, June 12 & 13th.
There will be a booth where you can make-your-own banana split and for the fifth year in a row both professional and amateur chefs will be invited to create a new banana split using some of the original recipe ingredients.
There is, however, an argument between banana-split historians. Latrobe, Pennsylvania also claims to have created the first banana split. Boosters in Latrobe claim a man there created the specialty three years earlier, in 1904. But Ohio is the only place that holds a festival each year to celebrate the sweet treat. And folks in Wilmington say if Ernest Hazard didn’t invent the first banana split in the world, it was at least first in Ohio.
Banana Split Festival, J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park, 1326 Fife Ave., Wilmington, Ohio 45177, 877-428-4748, www.bananasplitfestival.com
Gibson’s Goodies, Homemade Ice Cream, 718 Ohio Ave., Wilmington, Ohio 45177, 937-383-2373.
By the way, while visiting Wilmington be sure to stop by and take a look at their unusual mural that is part of a downtown public arts program. The 1600 square foot Main Street Market mural is being painted on the side of a building at 63 West Main Street next to the historic General Denver Hotel. .
Market Mural, 63 West Main Street, Wilmington, Ohio.