In August 2020 a friend of mine was bemoaning the fact it hadn’t felt like summer for lack of a typical summer road trip which should have included a stop at her favorite ice cream shop. She was so excited to get there last summer only to discover the place was now closed. Before her vacation even started this year, she was regretting that the shop is gone. She acknowledged she could get the same ice cream elsewhere but there was just something about that particular place that made it taste extra good.
I understand. When I was growing up my family loved camping in the Okanagan. Summerland B.C. was the town where we shopped, picked up groceries or did laundry. As we headed out of town my sister and I would be crossing our fingers that we would make one more stop before going back to the campground. The Tastee Freez. I always got a Mr. Malty. It was the most fabulous chocolate ice cream imaginable. That particular treat and childhood summer memories are all entwined for me.
I can honestly say I haven’t tasted anything quite like a Mr. Malty since. I recently learned that an ice cream shop in Moorhead, Minnesota has a menu item that some ice cream aficionados say comes very close. I didn't find this out until last week. I drove past Moorhead in August and had no idea my favorite ice cream treat might be found within its city limits. Oh, how I wish I'd known. We would have made a stop. Then again, a different ice cream store in a different location? No matter how good it might have been, would it have tasted the same?
There’s something about ice cream that often gets connected to specific memories, particularly when it comes to holidays and travel. A memorable moment from the movie “My Life in Ruins” has a tour guide in Greece questioning ice cream’s attraction. As she attempts to share the history of magnificent sites around Greece, she gets frustrated by tourists who seem more interested in stopping for ice cream. “What is it with tourists and ice cream?” she asks. “They had some this morning, then again after lunch. And now again with the $4 cones. I don’t get it.”
When I’m travelling, believe me, I try and take in everything all around me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not also on the lookout for a good ice cream shop. And while I won’t remember every detail about each place I’ve visited or each attraction I’ve seen, I have some pretty clear memories about the ice cream. It’s true.
At a family resort I asked for a single scoop for dessert. The server behind the counter smiled and said, “Oh no, ma’am. That’s not how we do it here,” and proceeded to dish up four or five scoops. I can almost feel the heat and smell the tropical air when I think about it. I certainly remember it was mint chocolate chip.
Or the rum and butter that I always get when we travel past a certain Dutchman’s Dairy that makes its ice cream on site. Or the strawberry cheesecake I associate with a favorite Saskatchewan beach.
Almost 25% of Canadians say they eat ice cream two or three times per month. Favorite flavors include chocolate, vanilla and mint chocolate, with maple walnut and butterscotch rounding out the top five. Not only do we have a wide variety of flavors to choose from, but a huge variety of brands too, depending on the quality of ingredients and the price anyone is willing to pay. It’s an important thing to consider for some people. But for me there’s something about enjoying the moment every bit as much as the milk product.
A friend stopped in at work with a dish of ice cream, just because. It turned a frenzied afternoon into a much more enjoyable one when the suggestion was made to take a break and simply enjoy the chocolate and vanilla swirl. So I did. It changed my day.
Whether I’m dangling my toes in the ocean enjoying chocolate chip cookie dough, or sitting in my backyard with a scoop of Neapolitan, it’s the setting, not just the sweet treat that makes it an occasion. Ice cream is great in its simplicity and ease of eating, and since we all likely associate it with any type of activity from school sports days to high end meals, it’s one of those things that reminds us it’s the people and places that ultimately gives the treat its flavor. That’s my outlook.