Ice cream shows up in all kinds of family history. For my dad and his brother, ice cream was every night’s bedtime snack. My grandmother still tells the story of a young cousin who is reported to have snuck back downstairs, after hours, because she heard “ice cream noises” (As it turns out, she had good ears–her parents had just raided the freezer). During my growing up, all the kids in our family knew that Breyer’s ice cream was “adult food.” When we moved into a small neighborhood in the Southeast, we quickly learned that the neighborhood’s Fourth of July tradition brought each family to our yard (we were at the top of the clearest hill), with their fireworks and a tub of homemade ice cream. The afternoon started with an ice cream buffet and the firecrackers and ended with the fancy fireworks. What birthday celebration is complete with only cake? As American as apple pie may be, nothing complements it as perfectly as vanilla ice cream–just look at the advertising pictures. Ice cream is tradition, even outside our family, and the cravings hit adults as much as they hit kids. Even the most formal dining establishments include ice cream in their dessert offerings, and every fast food restaurant worth mentioning has soft-serve chocolate and vanilla, bare minimum!
So what is it that makes ice cream such an intrinsic part of so many traditions? Perhaps it’s the fact that ice cream can be made at home, with only milk, sugar, vanilla, and cold. You don’t even really have to have a fancy-schmancy ice cream maker, if you have two coffee cans, ice, salt, and an energetic kid or two. Of course, if you don’t have time or energy to spend manually turning the ingredients into ice cream, there are a number of machines that will do all the work except for adding the ingredients, plugging the machine in, and turning it on.
Perhaps the real reason ice cream is so much a part of our lives is that there are enough flavors out there for pretty much anyone to find one that he likes, even if he’s lactose-intolerant or diabetic. From the fun vanilla ice cream with chunks of pink bubble gum scattered throughout to the luxurious dark chocolate ice cream with a ribbon of dark chocolate fudge running through the middle and a dark chocolate ganache layered on the top, there is, somewhere, an ice cream for everyone.
Ice cream isn’t just part of the menu, it’s part of tradition . . . . It’s part of life.