The ice cream of your youth was of indiscriminate variety—a carton pulled from a supermarket freezer belching frosty smoke, a cone you reached up on tippy-toe to retrieve from the man in the white truck with the bells. Didn’t matter which. It was ice cream.
Later you discovered exotic flavors sold in flashy pints, and didn’t blink at shelling out what amounted to $16 a gallon. You devoured swirly organic varieties that sat like mounds of cake frosting in small-batch silver tins, or gorged on vaguely Italian-sounding derivatives that you ate at sidewalk cafes and made you feel all Continental.
It didn’t matter. It was ice cream.
Philadelphia may not be its birthplace (legend gives that honor to somewhere in the Persian Empire circa 400 B.C.), but an argument can be made—and should—that ice cream was perfected here. By the late 19th century, Abbott’s, Breyers and Bassetts were the city’s true dairy queens, churning out creamy butterfat-laden fare until those premium pints elbowed in during the 1970s. Abbott’s closed; Breyers was sold, moved, changed. Bassetts remains with us, its signature navy blue cartons with the floating white-and-yellow script still a reassuring talisman.
Water ice is tart and lovely. But Philadelphia is a city of ice cream. Quixotic renditions are sold in fancy restaurants and parlours (note the “u”), atop desserts with names that sound like the titles of romance novels. The staples are still plopped into sugar cones and plastic bowls, then glooped with syrups and candies.
Which to choose? It doesn’t matter. It’s ice cream.