A dream made of ice cream

Palmer’s ice cream and candy store on Market Square was good enough to be a dream, but it was very real. The chocolates were displayed in a glass case in little piles on glass plates. Montevideos and operas were Porter’s favorites, which he would buy by the quarter-pound and take the little bag to the studio to savor. He was not eager to share, but he could have figured that we would not appreciate them as he did.

The ice cream cones were wrapped in paper, around the cone and a flat circle on top, to be peeled off. The ice cream itself was not the usual, but lighter — Ina said it was “full of air,” clearly not her favorite kind — of vanilla or chocolate; the latter was my choice.

Moody’s ice cream parlor at the end of the square had wooden-seated metal chairs, typical at the time.

The dime stores, Fishman’s, J.J. Newberry’s and Woolworth’s, each had a lunch counter with triple-decker sandwiches (called “club sandwiches” elsewhere), ice-cream and soda. My favorites were tuna fish-egg salad sandwiches, sundaes with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce, and root-beer floats with chocolate ice cream. Fishman’s cones were double at the top, holding two very small scoops.

In the summer, we made our own ice cream on Sunday at the cottage at Nickerson Lake, with ice from the lake stored in sawdust in the ice-house near the cottage. The cake of ice went into a burlap bag and was pounded with a sledge hammer or the butt of an axe blade out on the cement slab walk. When the ice cream had frozen well enough in the Kitchen Aid freezer to scoop out well, we served it. By the end of the day it was a bit runny and we enjoyed finishing it up as a bedtime treat. The flavor was usually vanilla or chocolate, but sometimes banana or maple walnut. Chocolate was melted on the stove to make a fudge sauce.

I never made Ina’s ice-cream recipe, but I did make Cognac and Coffee Ice Cream, from James Beard’s Menus for Entertaining, copyright 1965: 1 qt. heavy cream, 1 c. light cream, 1 c. sugar, 1 t. vanilla, ½ c. cognac, 2 T. instant coffee.

Recalling ice cream must include stops in the Patten drugstore when we went to visit Uncle Lon, short for Alonzo. They had Mexican peanuts on the counter to be scooped out for topping the chocolate fudge sauce. Uncle Lon’s big house was on the left as we came into town. Leonard and I would read the Sunday comics on the floor while the adults talked. We saw the Portland Sunday Telegram comics only there.

In 1970s Rochester, I watched a Kodak engineer eat a small Mexican sundae, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and Mexican peanuts, the small ones with skins on them. He said that he ate one every day. At his 6 feet, 4 inches, he could ignore calories.

On this nostalgic food trip I would like to include the mocha milkshake, which I got mainly at Howard Johnson’s, first on the Maine turnpike and later here in Rochester. Sometimes I had to explain that mocha was half chocolate and half coffee flavor. When making mocha flavor at home one can adjust the amount of each half to suit one’s taste.

It is simple to drift back in time, but I should have stocked the kitchen beforehand for this trip. I never eat ice cream now, only fat-free yogurt, which is not the same. Maybe tomorrow…

Byrna Porter Weir was born and grew up in Houlton, where her parents, Ina and Porter, were portrait photographers. She now lives in Rochester, N.Y.  

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