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Robin Friedman : author and journalist


Here’s the scoop!

Our ice cream addiction is something most of us never lick.

By ROBIN FRIEDMAN | The Allentown Times | May 26, 2006

Although not official, this weekend has traditionally marked the start of summer, and summertime means the scoopin’ is easy.

“There’s nothing better on a nice hot day than a yummy ice cream cone or milkshake,” says Beth Underkoffler, community nutrition coordinator for Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network in Allentown.

Everyone screams for ice cream.

In fact, when 1,005 men and women were asked to name their absolutely favorite comfort food, an overwhelming number chose ice cream, according to Psychology Today.

The 2001 study at the University of Illinois found that people cognitively connect important past associations with specific foods. Craving ice cream may stem from a desire to recapture carefree, childhood days of running after a dingling Good Humor truck.

“Everyone loves a sweet treat and ice cream satisfies that,” Underkoffler says. “There are so many varieties to choose from that you’re bound to find a favorite!”

Oh, and if you’re worried about calories, fat grams or carbs, you’re in the minority, you poor thing.

Statistics show the vast majority of consumers are looking for an indulgence when eating ice cream.

Manufacturers do offer reduced-fat, fat-free, low-carb, no-sugar-added and even lactose-free ice cream, but the numbers do not lie:

Calorie-laden, sugar-rich, bursting-with-butterfat ice cream accounts for 59.9 percent of the market, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), while reduced-fat, fat-free, blah blah blah ice cream only accounts for 27.8 percent.

The people have spoken.

Or, um, licked.

“It’s a treat. Even if people are on a diet, they save up their points for it,” says Lenore O’Hara, co-owner, with her husband, Jim, of the just-opened Marble Slab Creamery in Allentown.

Amen, sister!

And does it surprise you to hear that Americans eat the most ice cream per capita of any other nation in the world?

In 1924, the average American consumed eight pints of ice cream, according to IDFA; in 1997, the amount had jumped to 48 pints.

“If anything, the trend’s moved away from dieting,” agrees Nadine Schmoyer, co-owner with her husband, Jim, of Ice Cream World, an Allentown fixture for the last 38 years.

In 2004, 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream were produced in the U.S., according to IDFA, generating total sales of $21.4 billion. Ice cream is eaten by more than 90 percent of all U.S. households.

“It’s a happy business,” says Nadine Schmoyer. “It’s a nice way for people to enjoy themselves.”

Ice Cream World, which is open year-round, produces 150 types of ice cream, some of them in quite exotic flavors, such as bubblegum, cotton candy and kitchen sink.

“It goes back to childhood,” says Kim Fayad, who works behind the counter at Ice Cream World. “It’s a comfort food that carries throughout our lives.”

The top-selling flavor in the U.S. is vanilla, but at Ice Cream World, it’s mint chocolate chip.

“Can’t you tell we love it?” asks Jim Schmoyer, pointing to his stomach. “It’s pretty obvious!”

Lenore and Jim O’Hara decided to open Marble Slab Creamery a month ago, after owning an Irish pub, O’Hara’s Restaurant, for 15 years.

“I love ice cream,” says Jim O’Hara. “It’s my favorite food. I hope I don’t eat all the profits, but I probably will.”

The flavors at this ice cream parlor are exotic too: key lime, cinnamon and birthday cake, to name a few.

Birthday cake, which tastes like angel food cake — and is pretty heavenly! — is the store’s top seller.

But the main attraction at Marble Slab Creamery is, well, a marble slab, upon which customers are treated to “mixins,” concoctions of ice cream mixed with nuts, fruits, candies or nuggets of cakes and cookies.

“It makes people happy,” says Irene Rizzo, mushing and mashing a “mixin” on the marble. ”They can create whatever they want.”

The O’Haras plan to open five Marble Slab Creameries in the Lehigh Valley, with the second location set to open in Bethlehem next year.

“If you’re going to eat ice cream, my philosophy is, go for it,” Jim O’Hara says. “You can go crazy. That’s the beauty of it.”

Though there’s no specific origin for the discovery of ice cream, it’s a pretty ancient, if not biblical dessert, according to IDFA. Apparently, both Alexander the Great and King Solomon enjoyed early “mixins” — snow and ice flavored with honey, fruits and nectar.

During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar frequently sent slaves into the mountains for snow, which he likewise mixed with fruits and juices.

A thousand years later, explorer Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled what is now called sherbet.

“Ice cream is so refreshing because of its smooth, cool, creamy texture,” Underkoffler says.

By the 1600s, ice cream was finally available to the general public in Europe.

In the good old U.S. of A., the first official account of ice cream comes from a letter written in 1744 by a gushing dinner guest of Maryland governor William Bladen.

The first advertisement appeared in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1777.

“Ice cream makes me think of being on vacation,” Underkoffler says. “It’s one those of things that makes you smile.”

Founding father George Washington spent approximately $200 on ice cream during the summer of 1790.

Must have been a real steamy one.

And, in 1812, First Lady Dolley Madison served strawberry ice cream at her husband’s inaugural banquet at the White House.

In 1845, the invention of the hand-cranked freezer made the making-of-ice-cream possible at home.

But ice cream remained a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mostly by the elite until the late 19th century. That’s when rapid technological innovations — steam power, refrigeration, electric motors, packing machines, new freezing processes and motorized delivery vehicles — dramatically changed the industry.

The quintessentially American soda fountain — along with the profession of the “soda jerk” — gave birth in 1874 to the ice cream soda and the ice cream sundae.

And that stressor of stickiness—the ice cream cone?

It was invented by a New York City ice cream vendor in 1896 to keep customers from stealing his serving glasses.

At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, another vendor debuted a similar creation, making it forever famous.

Ice cream may swirl with myths and legends, but one fact is cold and hard.

The family that makes ice cream together, stays together.

Nadine and Jim Schmoyer have been married for 17 years; Lenore and Jim O’Hara have been married for 41 years.

“The ice cream business is like being in Disney World,” says Jim O’Hara.

With a cherry on top.