"Ice cream was something my husband and I were hooked on," said Vicki Grossman, talking from New York Scoop in Woodland Hills, her newly opened modern reincarnation of an old-fashioned ice parlor. "It was something of a ritual -- we would take the family to Carvel at least once a week."
That ritual, and others like it -- such as serving ice cream for desert or eating it straight out of the carton with a spoon -- have made ice cream one of the most popular foodstuffs in America today. No better time to celebrate that fact now, with July being National Ice Cream Month, designated by former President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Ice cream has something of an illustrious history in the United States: George Washington spent $200 on it in the summer of 1790, according to records kept by a New York merchant; Thomas Jefferson used an 18-step recipe to make his own; and Dolly Madison served it at her husband James' second inauguration in 1812.
In the last century, with the advent of commercial refrigeration, motorized churns and packing machines, ice cream changed from being a luxury item to a common food product. Today, the ice cream industry is worth some $20 billion in the United States and is enjoyed in 90 percent of American households.
That enjoyment is due, in some part, to Jews. While Jews did not invent ice cream -- although the International Dairy Food Association claims that King Solomon enjoyed iced drinks during harvest time -- in this country many Jews made themselves invaluable to the ice cream industry in other ways. It was Jews -- Rose and Reuben Mattus of Häagen Dazs -- who introduced America to super-premium ice cream, which is ice cream that has less air beaten into it, resulting in a creamier, richer product. It was also Jews -- Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's -- who started throwing interesting things into their ice cream, like crushed toffee bars and pretzels, which changed the ice cream experience from being smooth and delicious to being chunky and daring.
If you are looking for Jewish ways to celebrate National Ice Cream Month other than eating copious amounts of ice cream, start by reading the newly published "The Emperor of Ice Cream: The True Story of Häagen Daaz, A Love Story," by Rose Vessel Mattus (The Wordsmithy). It's the story of how two Jewish immigrants came to the Bronx, fell in love, got married, produced ice cream, staved off gangsters and made money. In between full-page glamour shots of Rose, Reuben (or Rufky as she called him) and their children, the book contains some interesting tidbits. The thick creamy Häagen Dazs that we know today was the result of a factory accident, when the air injection pump broke. Rather than tossing what was possibly a spoiled run, the Mattuses tasted it and found that, with less air, the product tasted superior to any ice cream that was on the market.
The book also clears up the mystery of how Häagen Dazs got it name.
"'I think maybe a Danish name,' [Reuben] said suddenly.... 'They're nice people you know. Good people. They tried hard to save Jews during the war, ferried them to safety ahead of the Nazis.... Everyone likes the Danes.'"
The Mattuses chose Häagen Dazs as the name because it was a Danish sounding inversion of Duncan Hines, a company they liked.
If reading doesn't strike your fancy, but you want to do something more unique than simply eating ice cream from the supermarket or from a chain store, you can head down to Munchies in Pico-Robertson. The kosher candy store makes its own pareve and dairy full-fat ice cream, and also serves a nonfat ice cream called Flavor Burst, a vanilla soft-serve striped with one of 10 different flavors, such as cheesecake or wild cherry.
"Everyone is selling the same thing, so we try to be innovative and different," said Gagy Shagalov, one of Munchies proprietors.
And for Valley folks, there is New York Scoop, which aims to give consumers a taste of the ice cream parlors of yore. It serves regular and low-carb kosher ice cream, as well as Italian ices and gelato, frozen hot chocolate and old-style favorites like egg creams, banana splits and sundaes.
"I'm definitely eating more ice cream now that I opened this store," Grossman said. "I try to keep it moderate, but not a day goes by without ice cream."
New York Scoop is located at 200401 1/2 Ventura Boulevard, Woodland Hills. For more information call (818)708-5174 or see www.newyorkscoop.com. Munchies Sweet Emporium is located at 8859 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 777-0221.