The worst ice cream I ever had was in England, when my family had recently returned there from the U.S., just after World War II. As a special treat, my sister and I were taken by relatives to some kind of ice cream parlor. Whatever we had there came with a tasteless wafer. It was all terrible – and I’m sure there was no cream, or even milk, in the ice cream. But my family had been living in comparative luxury in America. These poor relations had been through seven years of hell – which was now prolonged into an apparently endless period of “austerity.” Rationing of candy did not end until eight years after the war was over.
But it must be stated that, although English chocolate – still made under the names of three Quaker families Fry’s, Cadbury’s, and Rowntree’s – was often hard to get, and came in a very un-fancy wrapper, it remained very good, and was always better than Hershey’s.
Oddly enough, the best ice cream I ever had was in the Soviet Union. And this was not a chance incident. In the Soviet era, people used to say that there were just three reasons to go to Russia: the ballet, the circus, and the ice cream. How did this come about? Apparently, it was by government decree. In the early 1930s some government food board, which was responsible for regulating quality, had, for some reason, set very high standards for ice cream – such as the freshness of ingredients, and the absence of chemical additives.
Of course, that all changed when the regime ended, and ice cream, among many other commodities, could now be imported from other countries. It all forces one to admit that, in certain respects, the authoritarian state has its advantages.
But as far as ice cream and chocolate are concerned, here in Santa Barbara I feel that I happen to be living close to heaven. My tastes may not be what some might consider highly refined. Both my choices are available in local branches of chain stores which have numerous widely spread branches. The ice cream is called De Luxe, and I get mine at a downtown supermarket named Ralphs. The chocolate, which comes in large bars weighing more than a pound, and is therefore called “Pound Plus,” is made in Belgium, but sold here in less-than-super-markets, called “Trader Joe’s,” catering to a more upscale clientele. It amazes me that people are willing to pay so much for such commodities in specialty shops, when products of equal or superior quality are available at their local market.
Chocolate and ice cream are both so popular that it’s not surprising in how many different ways they have been combined – from the “Eskimo Pie,” which appeared in 1922, and made a fortune for its American inventor, Christian Kent Nelson, and the “Artik” on a stick, of which I consumed a great many in Israel in the summer of 1953, to the “Klondike” ice cream sandwich bars which still fill many freezers today. Some of these enjoyments consisted of vanilla ice cream, encased in a thin coating of solid chocolate. But the addition of mint flavoring has been found even further to enhance such delicacies, and my own current favorite, which is called “mint chip,” consists of green mint-flavored ice cream, into which are mixed small pieces of dark solid chocolate.
It happens that many of my most popular epigrams are on the subject of chocolate – perhaps because this was a topic on which, as G.K. Chesterton observed about cheese, “the poets have been mysteriously silent” (a deficiency which my friend David Peacock remedied in a prize-winning work he called “Cheesy Poem”).
Allow me to share a few of my original encomiums with you:
“If chocolate could teach, I would by now be very well-educated.”
“I want you, happiness, and chocolate – but not necessarily in that order.”
“Broken hearts heal slowly – but a speedy application of chocolate can often help stop the initial bleeding.”
I did also write “What did people do for pleasure, before ice cream was invented?” – which reminds me of a lovable character who was surely invented by the ice cream industry – the Good Humor Man, who came around the neighborhood, driving a mobile ice cream store, and announcing his presence with a loud cheery chime.
For all I know, you can now buy all kinds of ice cream online – but I doubt very much if they provide free samples.