My maiden name is Cohen. In all honesty, however, it should have been Cone. As in ice cream cone. As in my favorite summertime/anytime treat. As a matter of fact, if I were one of the Israelis wandering the desert with Moses, my manna from heaven would have tasted like Breyer’s Natural Vanilla.
My love for ice cream is in my genetic makeup. While I was growing up, a day wasn’t complete in the Cohen household without our dishes of ice cream. In the 1950s in Keeseville, our small town in Upstate New York,, choices were limited. Our freezer usually held one or two half gallons of Sealtest Neapolitan. Having all three flavors for six people worked out well. My father chose vanilla topped with a huge helping of strawberry preserves. My mother went for the strawberry. The four children took whatever we could scoop up with our vintage gray aluminum Scoop Rite ice cream scoop.
Our favorite food also played into all of our family’s special occasions. We dished out ice cream at birthday celebrations, Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, the first post-Passover meal, and Thanksgiving—what was apple pie without the a la mode! As an added treat, my parents would take us for ice cream at the Frosty Dairy Bar, a restaurant on Route 9 in Plattsburgh. Going there allowed us to go beyond Neapolitan, giving me my first tastes of “exotic” flavors like pistachio, chocolate chip, and cherry vanilla.
Fortunately, I met and married a man who, although not as fanatical as me, enjoys ice cream. He loves me enough to tolerate my addiction. Otherwise, I doubt if the marriage would have lasted. Our first date was a movie and a trip to Friendly’s. Larry had a chocolate Fribble, and I had a hot fudge sundae with—you guessed it—vanilla ice cream. It became our go-to place after every movie or play for many years.
Once we had children, we usually kept at least one half gallon of ice cream in the freezer, vanilla for me and Stewart’s Swiss chocolate almond for Larry—he still hasn’t forgiven Stewart’s for phasing out his favorite flavor. Once they could hold a kiddie cone, we would bring Adam and Julie during summer months to the Country Drive-In, a popular hamburger/soft-serve ice cream stand off Exit 8 of the Northway. Julie took Larry there every Father’s Day for a hamburger, fries, and an ice cream cone from elementary school until she graduated college.
My now-adult children don’t place ice cream as high on their favorite food list, but they take care of their mother. Julie and Sam makes sure they have Haagen-Dazs ice cream or gelato waiting for us in their freezer when we visit them Colorado. Adam humors us by taking us to Bi-Rite Creamery for a waffle cone whenever we visit him in San Francisco.
As empty nesters, we usually have a half gallon of vanilla ice cream in the freezer. I will have a small scoop once a week. Larry will indulge a little more often using his own “in-house ice cream routine.” First he softens the ice cream by putting the whole carton into the microwave for a few seconds. He then uses the Scoop Rite ice cream scoop we inherited from my parents to transfer one or two scoops into a cereal bowl. He squirts on Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup, throws on a few Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, and tosses on a healthy handful of chopped walnuts and sliced almonds. When Larry was laid up with a leg surgery, I tried to cheer him up by ‘recreating’ his masterpiece. I failed miserably as I messed up the proportions of ice cream, chocolate syrup, and nuts. To be honest, I think Larry treats ice cream as another way to eat nuts.
For me, however, a simple unadorned dish or cone of vanilla ice cream is my favorite food, a link to my childhood as well as one of life’s great pleasures. Ice cream even has played an important role during one of the most poignant times of my life. When my mother fell gravely ill four days before she passed away, she lost her desire for food. I asked her if she wanted anything special to eat. She whispered, “Strawberry ice cream.” The cafe at Coburg Village, the independent living place where she was living, had none. The wonderful young woman working behind the counter, upon hearing the story, went up to the main restaurant and brought me back a huge dish of strawberry ice cream to honor my mother’s request. When I got back to Mom’s bedside, she ate three or four spoonfuls before she pushed my hand away. “That was delicious! Thank you!” That was the last food she ever ate, a true Cohen to the end. I can only hope that I, like my mother, will a long, happy, healthy life that concludes with the sweet taste of vanilla ice cream on my tongue.
Until we relocated to Florida, one of my favorite stops was the three-mile trip to the Country Drive-In for a vanilla soft serve. As a matter of fact, I needed to make a trip there to take a picture of my eating my cone for the Jewish World, It was a cold, rainy, day, making it quite tough to buy that cone and eat it. Someone had to do the job, however, and who better than Marilyn Cone Shapiro?