Miriam Feder home


Ice Cream Musings

Oh sure, ice cream has become a little precious in the triumph of the markup wars. And I confess to some ice cream snobbery—I’ve been a huge fan of gelato since I personally discovered Italy in 1985—no Gianni-come-lately. Give me your gelato, sorbetto, fresh made waffles yearning to breathe free… bella. Well skip the waffles, I’m using up my carb ration on the main attraction. But face it, even lousy ice cream is pretty good. And it doesn’t take much to smooth the texture, boost the flavor, and win my tongue and memory—Fabulous.

Both of my parents were quite devoted to butterfat. My father, from the dairy Midwest, was born of Hungarian stock; butterfat was next to godliness. My Mother had already lived through the worst her gluttony could offer, so no low-fat incantation was tolerated.

Little Laura’s fondness for ice cream made her the special target of a prosperous Jewish family in her small German town in the mid-thirties. In preparation for their eventual flight to Holland, these people would pick her up and take her across the Dutch border for ice cream, hiding their valuables on her small person. In hindsight, she resented them for using her to smuggle their gold out of NAZI Germany, putting her at risk of being bayoneted on the spot. But she never regretted a smack of the ice cream.

My ice cream adventures were much safer. Childhood summer nights were often graced by a square dip from a local Evanston shop—I’ve forgotten the name. Today I cannot imagine how I could begin to manage a square of ice cream. Those corners would impair the experience for me. As a kid the square scoops were nicely weird.
Non-ice cream frozen treats (“quiescently frozen” as opposed to churned) were frowned upon in my household and thereby exoticized. In my Mother’s courtroom these treats could be exonerated by chocolate; my weakness for fudge-sicles was tolerated. I didn’t get to try a rocket pop until I was grown.

At nineteen, a double-dip cone of maple nut ice cream from Bridgeman’s took me to my summer graveyard factory job each night in Minneapolis. Occasionally I flirted with other flavors, but I always came back to maple nut. This was one of my few devotions to a non-chocolate dessert. Bridgeman’s chocolate just wasn’t chocolate-y enough.

In my child-raising days, ice cream was the third level of emergency treatment for childhood injuries. Step one was “kiss the owie.” Step 2—put a band-aid on it. When my daughter grabbed the searing beam of a metal jungle gym I initiated step three; “let’s go get ice cream.” Step 4 would have been a trip to the emergency room. Fortunately I never got to step four.

From an early age, I gave my daughter expert coaching in ice-cream cone management. I knew iced cream would be an important part of her future, so I approached this as a valuable skill to be handed down and practiced. You circle the cone, working the meeting of cone and ice cream, picking up the meltiest outside layer to get the “ready” ice cream and prevent drips. Watch the tongue pressure—you can easily undermine the stability of the scoop on the cone. Yes I had a tragedy once as a child. No need to reproduce that trauma. Practice makes perfect and how sweet it is.

Ice cream still works quite well on those injuries that transcend age and maturity, such as wounded pride, disappointment, fatigue … just about anything short of a broken bone. It’s so easy, so elegant, so well-disseminated. Even the worst retail muck or the hyper-precious versions transport the eater directly to the magic of a very cold thing on a hot day, summer’s best punctuation mark.