Monday, July 7, 2014

Dear friends and farmers,

Over the holiday weekend, I spent a lot of time with my family. At one point, we were sitting down, enjoying vanilla ice cream cones. My dad, somewhat of an ice cream connoisseur despite a slight lactose intolerance, remarked on how it had been a long time since he had vanilla ice cream. Casually, he mentioned that there weren't other flavors of ice cream available when he was a kid. Weren't other ice cream flavors?! He clarified: just vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and the collection of all three, Neapolitan.
At the local ice cream parlors, you generally had a choice of vanilla and chocolate. The twist option came later, he explained. But what about the grocery stores? The look on my face was incredulous, imagining a world without Moose Tracks or Mint Chocolate Chip or Cotton Candy Confetti. Nope, he chuckled. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or Neapolitan. The only places you could get any kind of special flavored ice cream were specialty ice cream shops with their 31 flavors, and let's face it. We came from an area that had more tractors than specialty businesses in the town square.

It's not that surprising to know that there was a time when ice cream flavors were limited. What surprised me was that this time was so recent. Technology has made such strides in the past few hundred years, it was hard for me to realize a simple thing like adding flavoring to ice cream wasn't common. Even I know that if I throw some milk, cream, sugar, mint extract and chocolate chips in a pint-sized ziplock bag, then put that bag in a gallon-sized freeze bag filled with ice and salt and shake it around for a bit... voila! Mint chocolate chip ice cream. So how can it be that only a few decades ago, ice cream had such little variety?

Though variations of ice cream can be traced back to the second century BC and have been documented as favored treats by leaders such as Alexander the Great and Caesar, or later George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, these treats were only enjoyed by the elite. Ice cream was an exotic desert for the wealthy and affluent societies. It wasn't until the 1800s when ice cream started to become more popular and more widely available, primarily due to advances in developing and producing ice and refrigerated transportation. Ice cream as a manufacturing industry began in 1851, pioneered by a milk dealer from Baltimore, Jacob Fussell.

Wider availability led to the soda fountains and the soda jerk profession Sarah recently discussed through the late 1800s and early 1900s. During times of war, especially during World War II, ice cream became a symbol of troop morale. Folks at home were rationing many items in support of the war, including dairy products, while military branches would compete with each other on which branch's troops were served the most ice cream. When the war ended, Americans were said to have celebrated their victory with ice cream, having sold nearly 20 quarts per person in 1946. Or perhaps the sales were boosted as troops, accustomed to having the treat regularly, brought their love of ice cream home to their families.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, ice cream shops began to decline as wider distribution of packaged ice cream was available in grocery stores and super markets. It was in this time period that specialty ice cream stores and unique treats and flavors started becoming more popular, first in urban centers, then slowly spreading to more rural communities. My father, having grown up in a rural community, can thus remember the days when specialty ice cream flavors just weren't available. Only vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or Neopolitan.

I guess it explains all those times my dad chose to pick up a package of Neopolitan ice cream at the store, to his children's dismay.

July is officially National Ice Cream month here in the United States. If you'd like to join us at the Farm in celebrating the diversity of fun flavors of ice cream we now enjoy, stop by Sweets and Treats for your own ice cream treat. Each week, we are featuring a special flavor, starting last week with Cookies & Cream. Want to know this week's flavor? Follow us on Twitter to find out!

Until next time,