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A cone by any other name

by Brian Clarey

We go through this every summer, the subtle and not-too differences between all of the various frozen treats. And here it is again – the pantheon of ice cream.

A sno-cone (or a snowball) is shaved or crushed ice with syrup flavoring. Sorbet is made from water (not ice) and fruit or other flavorings. Introduce a bit of milkfat or dairy to the mix, and you’ve got sherbet. As the milkfat percentage climbs, the nomenclature changes. Gelato introduces milk to the process. Ice cream uses – you guessed it – cream. Frozen custard has eggs in it, is served a few degrees warmer than ice cream and is also more dense.

And on this hot afternoon we head to Blue Ridge Ice Creams uncertain of which species of delicious treat we will enjoy; they seem to have them all.

Blue Ridge makes everything in-house, every day: 13 ice creams, seven gelatos, a sherbet and a sorbet – that’s in addition to a menu full of shakes, malts, smoothies, sundaes and floats. The flavors change according to the whims of the ice-cream makers and extend far beyond the pale of the garden variety. Ever had honey-lavender gelato?

To my uninitiated colleague I suggest a bowl of dulce de leche gelato, with the flavors of sweet cream and vanilla, and a generous ribbon of real caramel laced throughout. They keep the gelato in a separate freezer here, a bit warmer than the ice cream freezer for the perfect consistency, and the product is light and smooth. My colleague becomes an instant fan.

But for me, today, the decision is clear- I need an ice cream cone. And not one of those cake cones, either. I want a waffle cone. A real one.

The story of the ice cream cone – one of America’s few enduring contributions to the world of cuisine – is rife with controversy. But most food historians trace it back to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

This fair, the world’s largest at the time, was a watershed event in American history. The grounds encompassed more than 1,200 acres and 1,500 buildings, some of which are now part of Washington University. City planner George Kessler designed the fairgrounds. Teddy Roosevelt introduced the opening ceremonies by telegraph. John Phillip Sousa, Scott Joplin, Thomas Edison and Helen Keller were there. And thousands of visitors from the States and abroad saw for the first time hot dogs and hamburgers, peanut butter, cotton candy and iced tea. Dr. Pepper was introduced at the fair, as was Puffed Wheat brand cereal.

There were also human zoos. But I digress.

As the story goes, a waffle maker and an ice cream man were stationed next to each other in a vending lane on a hot day. Naturally, the frozen ice cream outsold the hot waffles, but the ice cream man ran out of plates. The waffle maker came to the rescue with a rolled cone and the rest was history – disputed because seven different people claim to be either the waffle maker or the ice cream man.

At any rate… that’s what I want: a big, honking ice cream cone that I’ll have to eat real fast before it melts all over my shirt. I go with the classics. Butter pecan. Chocolate almond. No mash-ins, no toppings, no sauces, no jimmies. Old school.

The ice cream is smooth and delicious, made that morning right here in the shop. Chunks of nut meat, velvety smooth chocolate and flecks of vanilla bean all make appearances.

The waffle cone could probably hold a pint of ice cream, and I wish I had ordered a third scoop as I dig in. Maybe something with coffee.

To comment on this story e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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