Thursday, July 28, 2011

Better Late than Never: National Ice Cream Month 2011

sweet spot ice creamWhile many of us are still in the midst of one of the most persistently hot months in living memory, it may be appropriate, before it gets too late, to remember that July is National Ice Cream Month.

See?  Just thinking about the cold creaminess sliding over your tongue and down your throat makes the heat seem less like Hades and more like heaven.

The first National Ice Cream Month was declared by President Ronald Reagan, pursuant to a congressional resolution, in 1984.  In a proclamation dated July 9, 1984, Reagan said:

Ice cream is a nutritious and wholesome food, enjoyed by over ninety percent of the people of the United States.  It enjoys a reputation as the perfect dessert and snack food.  Over eight hundred and eighty-seven million gallons of ice cream were consumed in the United States in 1983.

The ice cream industry generates approximately $3.5 billion in annual sales and provides jobs for thousands of citizens.  Indeed, nearly ten percent of all the milk produced by United States dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream, thereby contributing substantially to the economic well-being of the Nation's dairy industry.

Those numbers have changed somewhat in the ensuing quarter-century.  According to the International Dairy Foods Association,
The U.S. ice cream industry generates more than $21 billion in annual sales and provides jobs for thousands of citizens. About 9% of all the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream, contributing significantly to the economic well-being of the nation's dairy industry.
(Someone else will have to do the math for me to figure out whether the growth of the ice cream industry has kept pace with inflation, surpassed it, or underperformed.)

Over the years, Members of Congress have paid tribute to ice cream, either during National Ice Cream Month itself or in the preceding month of June, which has been designated National Dairy Month since the 1930s (either 1937 or 1939, depending on the source).

One of the best tributes came from then-Senator Alfonse D'Amato on June 17, 1993, found on page S7531 of the Congressional Record for that date (due to the eccentricities of the database, this link may or may not work).  D'Amato's remarks are worth reading in full:
Mr. President, I rise today to extol the virtues of ice cream, scrumptious concoction which has found its way into the hearts of fans across the globe. From Jamaican rum raisin to Chinese green tea to Georgia peach; from Hawaiian coffee to New York super fudge chunk, there is an ice cream flavor to please every palate, tempt every taste bud, and sooth every stomach.

To celebrate this unique eating experience, next month, July, is National Ice Cream Month, dedicate to American's love of ice cream. As an appropriate reflection of this national devotion, the United States leads the world in per capita production of ice cream and related products.

In 1992, American workers produced a record 1.49 billion gallons of these frozen desserts, which comes out to over 23 quarts per person. Being an enthusiastic ice cream loving State, New York's contribution to this number was a whopping 65 million gallons.

The enjoyment of ice cream spreads to all nations, ages, genders, and even crosses political party lines. As it has been said many times, to be happy, you must take the time out to enjoy the small things in life. This afternoon to celebrate the 11th annual Capitol Hill ice cream party, I would like to introduce a bipartisan personal stimulus package--eat more ice cream.
While never rising to mark National Ice Cream Month itself, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at least twice gave nearly identical floor speeches commemorating National Dairy Month, in which he mentioned ice cream prominently.  (A third Feinfold tribute, dated June 24, 2004, is entirely different.)

On June 4, 1998, Feingold said (page S5657 of the Congressional Record) in part:
Other Wisconsin dairy firsts include: the development of Colby cheese in 1874, the creation of brick cheese in 1875, the first dairy school in America- established in 1891 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the first statewide dairy show in the U.S. in 1928, and the creation of the world-record holding 40,060 pound, Grade-A Cheddar cheese in 1988. And Wisconsin also can claim one of the best-tasting inventions in the history of dairy industry: the creation of the first ice cream sundae in 1881.
On June 9, 1999, Feingold also said (page S6811 of the Congressional Record) in part:
Other Wisconsin dairy firsts include: the development of Colby cheese in 1874, the creation of brick cheese in 1875, the first dairy school in America--established in 1891 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the first statewide dairy show in the U.S. in 1928, and the creation of the world-record holding 40,060 pound, Grade-A Cheddar cheese in 1988. And Wisconsin also can claim one of the best-tasting inventions in the history of dairy industry: the creation of the first ice cream sundae in 1881.
As it happens, Hilde Lee, who writes about food history and traditions in a weekly column in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, told the story of the invention of the ice cream sundae in the Wisconsin chapter of her 1992 book, Taste of the States: A Food History of America:
The ice cream sundae originated in Ed Berners' ice cream parlor in Two Rivers in 1881.  It seems that one summer evening one of Berners' customers, George Hallauer, dropped in and ordered a dish of ice cream.  Hallauer saw a bottle of chocolate syrup, which Berners used to make sodas.  "Why don't you put some of the chocolate on the ice cream?" Hallauer asked.  Berners complained it would ruin the flavor of his ice cream, but Hallauer insisted he wanted to try it anyway.

Chocolate-topped ice cream became the rage of the town, and Berners began experimenting with other flavors and with toppings of nuts or a generous dish of apple cider.

The name sundae, however, was born in the neighboring town of Manitowoc.  George Giffy, also the owner of an ice cream parlor, served the embellished ice cream dishes only on Sundays.  One weekday, a little girl ordered a dish of ice cream "with stuff on it."  When told that he only served it on Sundays, the child said, "This must be Sunday, for it's the kind of ice cream I want."  Giffy gave it to her, and from then on the dish was called Sunday.  How the spelling evolved into sundae is not known.
Not every member of Congress has been so kind in regard to National Ice Cream Month.  Back in 1992, former Colorado Congressman Joel Hefley complained about commemorative days, weeks, and months as a waste of the taxpayers' money and of legislators' time.  He said in a one-minute speech on the floor of the House on August 12 of that year (page H8027 of the Congressional Record):
Mr. Speaker, in the last few years, Congress has picked up a lot of nasty little habits that cost taxpayers big bucks.

To pad their legislative accomplishments, some Members of Congress have taken to introducing one commemorative bill after another in hopes of stroking every special interest group that knocks on their door. In fact, 30 percent of all public laws are commemoratives. That is why we now have a `National Tap Dance Day,' a `National Ice Cream Month ,' an `Elvis Presley Day,' a `Karate Kids Just Say No to Drugs Month' and a `National Quilting Day.'

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Elvis Presley or people who enjoy quilting, and I think it is great that we have positive role models against drugs. I also love to indulge my taste buds with ice cream from time to time, but to get these bills passed, we spend close to $350,000 a year to do it.

There are two bills working their way through Congress that would create a commission to advise the President on proposals for national commemorative events. It would cost half as much and accomplish the same thing. Plus, it would give Congress more time to deal with the more difficult and important issues of the day.

Commemoratives get my vote for `Porker of the Week' award.
The fact that Hefley was correct should not deter us, however, from celebrating National Ice Cream Month privately.

For example, The Jewish Daily Forward has marked this month this year by running a series of articles about ice cream, accompanied by recipes for delicious (and, presumably, kosher) ice cream dishes.

Introducing the "Frozen Friday" series, Dan Friedman lets his imagination run wild in an article called "Religion, Politics, and Ice Cream, Oh My!":
People are fascinated with the idea of the afterlife and whether Jews believe in Heaven and Hell. Now, I’m no professional theologian, but I think that if I died and was greeted by a smiling minyan of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Mr. Häagen and Mrs. Dasz, Joseph Edy and Moshe-Lev Dreyer, Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins, Sharon Breyer and Malky “Dairy” Queen bearing free samples that, for me, would be heaven.
The series also includes a reminiscence of Naomi Zeveloff about her distant relatives who were the founders of Häagen-Dazs. It turns out to be a typically touching story of immigrant success, by-the-bootstraps-style.
Reuben and Rose were distantly related Polish Jews who moved to Brooklyn and married in 1936. Though the Häagen-Dazs web site would have you believe that it was Reuben’s advanced palate that foretold the couple’s success, the truth is that Reuben got into the ice cream business because it was a lucrative way to start out in America. When Reuben first hitched his horse to a wagon and began hawking his mother’s ice cream to restaurants in the Bronx, he joined a small group of Jewish ice cream vendors who roamed the city, cooling summer fevers with an icy treat.

Haagen Dazs Book of Ice CreamReuben sold the family’s ice cream for three decades before forging his own path. While most ice cream manufacturers cut costs by concocting a sweet, milky mixture that could barely pass for ice cream, Reuben created a fatty, dense ice cream in three flavors — chocolate, vanilla, and coffee — and marketed it to the city’s upscale restaurants. Rose came up with a vaguely Scandinavian name. Häagen-Dazs has no meaning; in fact, the umlat above the first ‘a’ and the combined ‘zs’ are unheard of in Scandinavian languages. Nonetheless, the couple slapped a map of Scandinavia on the lid of the ice cream containers and New Yorkers got a taste of the “European” delicacy.

“By word of mouth,” it became popular, “people tasted it and it was really good,” said Harriet Leitz, Reuben’s first cousin. “When you compared the ice cream, one was like garbage and the other was like cream.”

.... From the beginning, Häagen-Dazs prided itself on its simple recipe of fresh cream, milk, and eggs.

In 1983, Reuben and Rose sold the company to Pillsbury, which was bought out by General Mills in 2001. (Dreyer’s, a subsidiary of Nestle, now makes the ice cream in the U.S. and Canada.) The couple made a fortune, and spent much of it supporting Israel through right-wing causes, funding organizations devoted to bringing Jews from Europe and Asia to settle the West Bank. Rose in particular became a fixture in Zionist circles, sitting on the board of the Zionist Organizations of America.
Somehow Naomi Sugar's article about ice cream sodas works in a mention of the cocktail that originated in Washington, D.C., and which was recently celebrated in a legislative commemorative resolution from the District of Columbia City Council:
Legend has it that Colonel Joe Rickey invented the lime rickey in the 1880s after a bar tender at Shoomaker’s in Washington DC added a lime to the Colonel’s morning drink. A decade later it became a sensation when mixed with gin. To honor the raspberry lime rickey, a summer staple, bartenders in Washington, DC have declared July as National Rickey Month. So, I suppose it’s apropos that I’ve made a raspberry lime rickey ice cream soda for national ice cream month and national rickey month!
(For those who are interested, Garrett Peck has a more detailed history of the rickey in his recent book, Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't.)

Finally, Rivka Friedman offers a recipe for cinnamon swirl ice cream as the end of her quest for a "Jewish" ice cream flavor:
Is there such a thing? I thought about milk and honey ice cream (too cliched); date and pomegranate ice cream (more Israeli than Jewish); even ricotta-brown sugar ice cream, supposedly inspired by kugel (such a stretch!). The ideas, they didn’t come so quickly. I was stuck. But it’s National Ice Cream Month and I had committed to being part JCarrot’s Frozen Fridays. So there was no way out: I’d be figuring out a Jewish ice cream flavor, yes I would.
Although it is "National" Ice Cream Month, it should be noted that love for ice cream is an international phenomenon, as a story filed by United Press International on July 28 makes clear.

It seems that classes in making ice-cream desserts offered at the headquarters of Carpagiani, a Bologna-based manufacturer of ice-cream-making equipment, attracted some 12,000 students in the past year.

Kaori Ito (does that sound like an Italian name to you?), the director of the school, told Sky News (as reported by UPI) that "the people who come here are people who want a career change. The average age is 35-40. They are ready to drop what they're doing and open a new chapter in their lives."

The report was distributed by UPI under its "Odd News" category. Is it really so odd, though, that people would flock to learn about ice cream?

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