I just read in the Lazer that a new Dairy Queen is going to open in hopes of attracting families to enjoy the treat of ice cream. When I was growing up in Louisa, ice cream was something high on my list of favorites. It was during the late forties when friends of the family showed up with some ice cream for us to enjoy. The friends had also brought along a large bottle of ginger ale that they soon turned into a marvelous ice cream soda! This was my first time of having ice cream other than the product the adults made by cranking the ice-filled machine that favored a butter churn. What came out was cold, creamy, and far sweeter than butter, for sure.
I struggle to think of the few times I had ice cream as a little kid. In my earliest years I didn’t have any at all that I remember until that time we made ice cream sodas at home. I do know that later, during the years just preceding my teens aged years, we had ice cream only as a special treat. Oh, it wasn’t an everyday event to be sure.
I do remember standing on my tip toes to see inside an ice cream freezer from which the clerk dipped into a large cardboard cylindrical container of that hard frozen delight that would soon go into a milkshake or make up a base for a Sundae. In grade school they sometimes passed out cardboard cups of ice cream to us kids. I have no memory of whether that was a simple gift from the teacher, surplus from the kitchen, or some kind of federal program like when peaches or pears were handed out. The little cups were about a half-pint and had a cardboard lid with a tab for pulling off the inset top. Each cup came with a wooden (not plastic) spoon. I remember a few spoons broke when I was digging into the hard-frozen ice cream. No worry, the teacher had more spoons and most boys had their jack-knives. I also remember our dirty faces and sticky fingers. I just wiped my mouth on my shirtsleeve and everything was better, or at least until grownups started griping over my messy shirt. Well, I had given my napkin to one of the girls. They didn’t have sleeves, or they had been trained not to confuse sleeves with napkins.
Most of the ice cream I had was vanilla, but I think as time went on chocolate and strawberry were added to the menu. One grocery store had a refrigerated bin of these cardboard cups and we could reach down through the cold frost and choose the kind we wanted. Later, different varieties were added such as ‘drum-sticks’ which was an ice cream in a waffled cone with a layer of chocolate covered with nuts on top. I loved the ice cream sandwiches, frozen bars with a waxy chocolate outer covering, Eskimo pies, Popsicles, and a wealth of other such products. Who needs vegetables when you can have ice cream?
Back then the big war was just over and the dairy industry was busy creating new products. This included homogenizing and pasteurizing milk. These new processes were a big advertising thing milk companies used to market their ‘better’ product. Imagine, after all these centuries they finally found a way to improve milk from a cow. Admittedly, pasteurization was a big step forward, but I don’t agree that homogenizing, which is a process of blending the butter fat into the milk. From this came new products with less butterfat, which was something customers wanted. Many of us miss that top layer of cream. The milk industry soon lobbied for regulations that killed the sale of raw milk from the farm directly to the customer. I am sure that a big part of that move was more to control the market than to protect the consumer. Of course the new rules made some sense because of the poor refrigeration available to many households of the era, and a lack of hygiene in the distribution chain, but they favored larger milk companies, too. In the end, we had to give up those glass jugs with the layer of crème floating on top. With that, butter making also disappeared. From the farmer’s point of view, I’m sure it cut into profits, too, since their market was controlled by large cooperatives. I have fond memories of the fresh milk from my uncle’s dairy farm and how much I loved it.
Ice cream to us was pretty much always a treat, just like it was to my children. Like blackberry pie, pumpkin pie, strawberry shortcake, and other desserts, it tended to be seasonal. It’s not that we didn’t have ice cream year around, but most of us went for that when it was hot. It still adored pies and cobblers, even at Christmas and other festive occasions, but those were always out of the ordinary and very special.
Sometime, around the time that I was maybe in the fifth or sixth grade, I was introduced to the creamy swirls of soft serve ice cream as an alternative to the hard frozen variety. Whether it was Dairy Queen, or some other similar brand I don’t remember. I think it was in Huntington, WV. The clerk merely pulled on a lever and the ice cream cone filled in swirls pouring out of the machine. Layer after layer piled up until they cut it off leaving a cute little curl on top. Then, to top it off, they dipped the ice cream into some liquid chocolate and pulled it back out. The coolness of the ice cream caused the chocolate to harden and make a thin layer that I loved to carefully bite through. Yum! (or nummy, nummy, as my toddler grandchildren have said).
I was almost a teen when someone built a soft serve ice cream store between Simpson’s Gulf station and the Cyprus Inn. Our access to ice cream was further enhanced when a short time later Louisa experienced Dee’s Dairy Queen just across Madison from Ed Land’s Drug Store. Every time I visit my home town I still enjoy stopping at Dee’s for lunch.
There was a time in our lives when Suzy and I seriously considered buying a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. It was only a couple of blocks from where we lived in those days and we thought it might be a good investment for the family. In the end, the price was too high, and the risks were higher than the seller let on, so we chose to go another direction. That store failed a year or two later and went out of business. That might have been a disaster for us, but then, maybe we might have pulled it out, but not at the price they were asking.
During my last year or two at Louisa High School I tried to go to Ed Land’s right after school and buy a $.25 milk shake. I was trying to gain weight in those days. Those who remember my lanky frame at the time will attest I needed to put some meat on my bones. Have no fear, the mission has more than been accomplished. It wasn’t the milk shakes, but all-around good eating, a happy marriage, and many, many family celebrations, including bowls of homemade ice cream.
There were days when the family would gather together to celebrate July forth, or some other event, and the ladies would have the men get some ice and prepare the wooden ice cream maker for the making of some wonderful home-made ice cream. In the early years they’d let me try but I was too little to crank the handle. The older boys and men would crank and crank until the ice cream was properly frozen. Then out came the bowls and we cleaned the dasher with spoons, and lapped down every speck for our pleasure. As for me, I knew this didn’t happen often so I ate slowly and savored the flavor and went back for more in case some was left. Finally, the melted liquid was raised to the lips and I drank the heavenly nectar.
I looked up the history of ice cream in hopes of adding some wisdom of some kind to this article, but there’s little really to report. Oh, some authors point out that the Egyptians enjoyed the treat, or Alexander the Great did. Other said Marco Polo did, or even very ancient China had it. We know from history books and tour guides that Tom Jefferson had it served at Monticello and George Washington had a supply of fixings at Mount Vernon when he passed away. The problem was, that in those days, ice was a commodity hard to come by. Yes, the Romans could send off to the Alps to gather some of the ingredient, but until compressed refrigeration was invented, it was tough to obtain enough ice to make ice cream. Aside from cutting ice from the frozen Big Sandy, I suspect that the earliest refrigeration happened in Louisa when the ‘ice house’ was built. They could do that by using noisy compressors, which I suppose is why they stuck it at the far end of Lock Avenue to keep from driving residents mad.
The ice man made his weekly, or twice weekly deliveries to the homes around town, and some could be used to make the delicacy I’m sure. I have no personal memory of using the ice that way, but I do remember the ice man, and I did chase after the wagon, and later flatbed truck, to get chips of ice to hold in my jaw. They put the ice on saw dust and covered it with a big, heavy tarp. I’d sneak my hand under the tarp searching for chips broken off so the ice tongs could grip the big ice block. In those days we all had ice picks, but I’m betting few would have a clue what they are for or how to use them.
With ice cream, things changed when the war ended and Kelvinator and others made home refrigeration affordable. The dairies could then add the freezers and make ice cream in the big drums we still see today where it is hand-dipped. Smaller boxes of ice cream went to the stores once they got the electric freezers that would allow them to carry the products without unreasonable product loss. You know, people think the wheel was important, or sliced bread. My vote goes to the compressor, which made refrigeration possible.
Consider for a moment the enormous change with refrigeration. Produce could be shipped coast to coast, milk delivered over long distances, and beef could be packed and shipped without those long cattle drives. As America came out of the depression and applied the lessons and inventions that came out of the war, history for mankind changed. Our history books mark the Battle of Hastings, the Magna Carta, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the first and second World Wars, but they miss the wonderful days when ice cream became available to the masses. You didn’t have to be rich to enjoy and share this treat finally that finally was accessible to us all. That was truly revolutionary. Someone should build a monument on the Capital green to celebrate this important achievement of man. Maybe it should look like a big, wooden ice cream freezer with a crank. What do you think?
One of Suzy’s favorite sayings is “Life is uncertain, so eat dessert first!” Whatever you make for dessert, whether it is apple pie, peach cobbler, or pound cake, just be sure to add a dollop of ice cream and enjoy. It makes life worth the living, for sure.