It never occurred to me to wonder about this, until the other day, when I suggested going for an ice cream somewhere nearby, and Jay demurred, saying the only ice cream worth having was the one either 11 or 20 miles away. When did this fussiness begin? I’m thinking back to when I first arrived in America. It became very clear to me almost immediately that American cuisine had introduced three great things to the world – hamburgers, really interesting salads, and ice cream. Oh, we had ice cream in England, too, but it came wrapped in individual portions, either as vanilla ice cream bars (covered with chocolate) or in small paper cups, with a little wooden spade to eat it with.
So when I arrived in the US and was taken by my husband to a Baskin Robbins (32 flavors) I was astonished and delighted. I made it a goal to try all the flavors which might be worth eating. Mint chocolate chip? How sophisticated. Nutty coconut? An inspired recipe. Butter pecan? It contained those nuts I’d only heard about back in England. And then Jamoca, my true love. My husband, on the other hand, stuck to the only flavor he really liked – Pralines ‘n’ Cream. In the large size.
Soon however, the siren song of Haagen Dazs was heard throughout the land. Their ice cream was better, richer and more imaginative, said Jay. He was never going back to Baskin Robbins. Vanilla Swiss Almond, Amaretto Almond Crunch and Rum Raisin were fine for me. But my husband found his true love and stuck to it. At first it was Macadamia Nut ice cream, and then they introduced Macadamia Brittle, the King of ice creams, according to Jay. There was one drawback. If we arrived at a Haagen Dazs shop or a supermarket where they didn’t stock one of those macadamia flavors, language ensued. And it was becoming clear, as the years went by, that macadamia nut ice creams were becoming harder to find – something to do with the macadamia crop in Hawaii becoming too expensive. But Jay was not despondent for too long.
We bought a little House in New Hampshire, and the local ice cream there, was, of course, Ben & Jerry’s. I approved of this ice cream, made by a couple of hippies who were obviously stoned when they came up with flavors like Cherry Garcia, Wavy Gravy and Phish Food. Jay was happy again – even when they retired one flavor, there was always another coming along the conveyor belt. So Southern Pecan Pie was followed by Rainforest Crunch and then Karamel Sutra. For me it was always Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, even though they had to call it Coffee Toffee Crunch for a while (for legal reasons, I think).
Then tragedy struck. The little ice cream parlor in our town stopped serving Ben & Jerry’s. They still sold ice cream, but it just didn’t have the oomph that Jay needed. Until last summer. Suddenly, he discovered the Walpole Creamery and their Caramel Cashew Chip. We were driving along in the middle of farm country after picking blueberries nearby, and suddenly Jay swerved off the road. He’d seen a sign, he said. I thought maybe he’d had some sort of epiphany, but the sign turned out to be a modest cutout of an ice cream cone. “We deserve a reward for picking all those blueberries,” he said. And he’s been going back ever since. (The blueberries have long since stopped being an excuse.)
“This is, hands down, the best ice cream ever,” he announced recently, with the air of a man who would never stoop so low as Ben & Jerry’s again. I sometimes wonder, rather uncharitably, whether the fact that their small cone appears to contain 7 scoops of ice cream has something to do with Jay’s devotion…
Being a bit older now and, he assures me, much wiser, Jay now has a backup plan in the event that the Walpole creamery ice cream is not available. Only 20 miles away, he knows a little spot called the Scoop, where he swears the ice cream is the best ever.
I, on the other hand, don’t worry about finding the perfect ice cream for myself. Jay may mock, but dear old Haagen Dazs has finally produced a coffee ice cream which comes in small paper cups, with a little plastic spoon to eat it with. That’s what I love about ice cream – some things never change.