Remember the days before Baskin Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s and frozen yogurt shops were on every street corner? The days when ice cream stands and parlors dotted the American landscape? I do. I remember summers spent on a lake in rural Connecticut and my parents taking me for homemade peppermint ice cream at a little stand that was nothing more than a shack on an old country road.
Back in the day when I was growing up in Bayside, not far from my house, sitting on the corner of Bell Blvd. and 35th Avenue, was another shack. Everyone called it “The Shack,” because that’s what it was, literally. It sold newspapers (my dad bought his daily Herald Tribune there) and comic books, cigarettes, candy, tall “2 cent” pretzels and ice cream. Breyers ice cream to be precise before Breyers went commercial and packaged it flavors to be sold in supermarkets. Big scoops of soft creamy vanilla or rich chocolate, fresh peach or strawberry or, my favorite, butter almond plopped on top a crunchy sugar cone (or crunchy cake cone if that was your preference) then dipped in chocolate sprinkles.
I loved it when my parents would take me there for a treat and I’d watch Tony, the owner, dip his scoop into the butter almond tub and build my cone. Or watch when Tony would pack a pint (or quart) cardboard container (never styrofoam) with ice cream to take home as a special dessert that night. Wisely, my parents rationed sweets in our house, so when we did have ice cream or cookies (made by mom), it was an event.
As I grew older, I rode my bike to the Shack or walked those few blocks and would buy a two cent pretzel with “allowance” money and I’d look through my favorite Lulu and Archie comic books. Tony, an old-world Italian immigrant, wasn’t overly warm or friendly, but he allowed us kids to hang out even if we didn’t buy a cone or pretzel or comic book.
The old Shack was eventually torn down to make way for the new Shack, a sort of “pre” mini-mall, box-like, cement-looking structure a few yards from the corner to make way for a gas station (if my memory serves me). Unlike the old Shack which was cramped with no seating, but had character, the new Shack was bigger, brighter and more sterile. BUT, it had a soda fountain/luncheon counter where we kids could sit and sip a coke or eat a sundae till we had to go home for supper.
Before too long Tony’s teenage son (also named Tony) started working there after school and I started hanging out there sipping an egg cream and reading love comics (I, too, was a teenager by then). Tony, Jr., was taller than his father and so cute. Whether it was after church (only two blocks from the Shack) or on the way home from middle school, I’d often drop in for ice cream or check out the comic books and, of course, to see if Tony, Jr. was working.
Having a teenage crush was fun and by the time I was in high school, Tony, Jr. and I became friends and it was the ice cream that kept me going to the Shack.
No “store-bought” or “pre-packaged” ice cream has ever replicated the taste. Nor has Ben & Jerry’s or Baskin Robbins.
Not until a recent Sunday brunch when one bite of dessert brought the Shack back.
Friends were dropping by my home in L.A. on their way home to Ojai and my husband and I decided to ‘do’ a brunch. Of course, we could have done lunch (maybe make fancy ‘Chef Nancy Silverton’ grilled cheese sandwiches, or a grilled chicken Caesar salad), but since they were to arrive before noon, but after ten, we did brunch.
My husband planned his menu that started with a thick chunk of smoked salmon (not lox or nova) with unsalted butter and crackers and bloody Marys. Then came a baked bread, sausage, red pepper and asparagus egg strata, served with a chilled 2006 House of Nobilo Icon sauvignon blanc, followed by some French pressed coffee or tea and his homemade lavender cookies and homemade gelato. I pulled out my four antique Limoge luncheon plates (bruncheon plates?), polished the sterling luncheon (bruncheon) silverware, put linen napkins in silver rings and set our old pine farm table.
Brunch was a hit – but nothing prepared us for the delicious taste of homemade strawberry gelato. Pure creaminess coupled with the amazing taste of fresh strawberries.
Not since I licked a strawberry cone at the Shack have strawberries tasted better.
The Shack is gone now, but the memory lingers.
(From Italy’s Carpigiani Gelato University
as reported by Sherri Jennings in the LA Times)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 T. skim milk powder
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 -3 cups cleaned strawberries
1 1/2 pounds ice
1 pound ice cream salt
In medium saucepan, combine milk, milk powder, cream and 1 cup sugar.
Heat over medium heat, stirring, until it reaches a strong simmer (7-8 mins.)
Remove from heat, store in fridge at least 3 hours, up to 2 days.
In blender, combine the cooled milk base with strawberries and remaining 3/4 cup sugar.
blend until smooth.
Place mixture in small metal bowl over a larger bowl containing ice and salt.
Whip with a hand whisk for ten minutes or so to lighten texture.
Freeze for about 1-1/2 hours before serving. (Per my husband, it never freezes well enough in that short a time... four hours maybe – but gelato should have a soft consistency – just like that ‘loose’ creamy homemade ice cream)
Then settle in a comfy chair with a big bowl of gelato and read your favorite comic book or, better yet, “Freeze Frame” my political thriller with a Bayside heroine with Bayside memories of her own.