Friday, August 14, 2009

Memories Preserved in the Freezer

Gus Rancatore, co-owner of Toscanini, an independent ice cream shop in Cambridge, Mass., recently wrote a piece about ice cream and the memories that people attach to it. He says "People associate ice cream and ice cream stores with first dates, softball victories, and getting into graduate school."

Come to think of it, I have steadily built a life out of ice cream.

Ice cream is my favorite dessert. In my house as a kid, I had some form of it just about every night after dinner: Flintstones Push Up pops, Good Humor bars, fudgsicles, half gallons of Breyers or Welsh Farms or Turkey Hill, or Eskimo ice cream sandwiches. The Dove bars were reserved for my mom and rarely were we allowed a bite. There were cake cones and, sometimes when we were lucky, the superior, pointy sugar cones. Sometimes there was chocolate sauce, sometimes there were sprinkles, sometimes there was Magic Shell.

When I think of the Breyers, I picture Neopolitan - the pink, white and brown stripes neatly segmented in a box. Once the carton had been popped opened, subsequent nights I'd avoid the rubbery bits of ice cream that had dried against the cardboard. Welsh Farms made a great mint chocolate chip. Turkey Hill was good for plain chocolate chip. Always my scoop - or scoops - would melt too fast in the bowl, encouraging me to eat it faster before it turned to soup. I hated melted ice cream. I always wished for more time to savor it. Or, another scoop would be just fine.

There was a Friendly's in town where we could order a "Wattamelon Roll" - a log of watermelon and lemon sherbert resembling half of a watermelon with chocolate chips for seeds. But sometimes it was the individual Reeses Pieces cups that called to me. Or giant sundaes with hot fudge.

Get togethers with my mom's friends often meant Carvel ice cream cakes with the unbeatable chocolate crunchies. Well, it did, after we had let the cake sit out long enough to wedge the knife in.

Speaking of Carvel, they made great flying saucer ice cream sandwiches. Oh, and I liked spending my cafeteria money on Chipwiches.

There was ice cream at summer camp. Rainy afternoons gathering under the pavillion that smelled of the damp, sweaty campers crowding around the counselors doling out ice cream from the plain cardboard boxes, hoping to get the Rocket Pop or the generic ice cream sandwich bar - anything good - before they ran out. None of those plain orange popsicles, thanks. Then it was time to treasure our treats while doing a little dance to prevent the drips of the last bites from landing on our sneakers or our T-shirts.

Mr. Tang in Chinatown, at the corner of Mott and Bayard, used to be the site of dinners with my extended family. It was across the street from a Haagen-Dazs and every now and then we'd get to go across and order a cup while we waited for my dad to get the car.

During summer programs in Spain and Italy, I went for ice cream cones or gelato twice a day or more. Everything tasted so much creamier there and the sugar cones were bigger. That was when I learned to overcome the grossness of licking a friend's cone so I could try other flavors besides the one I had ordered.

High school Blockbuster nights went hand-in-hand with trips to the Grand Union next-door for a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Back then the preferred flavor was usually Cherry Garcia.

In my adult life: trips to Paris, searching out Berthillon (and loving it); vanilla soft serve in New England; funky flavors served in delicate dishes in upscale restaurants; the joy of Shake Shack's short B line and flavors of the day; and even making my own vanilla ice cream.

Ice cream has been a mile marker in my life. How many more there might be. I hope for the road to be long and sweet.

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