As a young ice cream eater coming of age in the Boston suburbs, I followed a carefully triangulated ice cream route. For sundaes, there was Bailey’s in Belmont — remember that place? — which served ice cream in dainty silver dishes with toppings burbling over the sides. For gluttony, there was Westford’s Kimball Farm, where a kiddie cone was the size of an actual child. If it was soft-serve you craved, Dairy Joy in Weston was your place. Yes, it was cash only (and plenty of it), but that was part of the thrill. Did you have enough for the chocolate shell? What about sprinkles?
There were oodles of other stands, interchangeable in their mosquito-ridden summertime fluorescence, where kids lined up for mint chip or bubble gum served by gawky teens — Erikson’s in Maynard, Sullivan Farms in Tyngsboro, Great Brook in Carlisle, Benson’s in Boxford. The names were different, but they all looked and tasted pretty much the same, complete with the jug out front for college tuition tips. For take-home treats, it was a pint of Brigham’s coffee fudge.
Times have changed. I returned to Boston as an adult after nearly a decade in Washington, D.C., to discover an unrecognizable dairy landscape. Bailey’s is gone. Brigham’s is now an endangered species; my local one has been renamed “Digumm’s.” Kimball Farm still serves ice cream, but it also has bumper cars and exotic animal exhibits. Even Dairy Joy installed an on-site ATM. The indignity of it all!
In fact, the bygone ice cream stands of my youth have been supplanted by gourmet creameries that seem like lactose versions of Bath & Body Works. At one neighborhood shop, I was confronted with a true flavor conundrum: Did I prefer ginger wasabi or green tea? Neither. I wanted plain old chocolate. At another spot, I asked for a mocha frappe. A contrite teen confessed that she had no idea how to make such a thing.
We are entering a lawless new era of ice cream consumption. Plant-based ice cream parlor FoMu has entered into a collaboration with several top Boston chefs, selling flavors like sugar pumpkin sesame and roasted parsnip. A recent pop-up hosted by Rancatore’s boasted offerings like butterscotch with aged Gouda cheese, potato chip with chocolate chips, and Boston baked bean. One of the hottest parlors in town is Gracie’s in Somerville. Full disclosure: The owner, Aaron Cohen, is a friend of mine (though maybe not after he reads this). That said, “Day After Easter on Sale Candy” is not a flavor that dribbled down my arms on rides home from Hampton Beach.
Yes, ice cream has become a vehicle for our wildest dreams and fantasies. Combinations that might never work in real life become unlikely bedfellows when bound by mere lactose. And sure, a bit of experimentation is fun. I’m not a Cream Curmudgeon. (God, that sounds like a flavor.) I’ll try the foie gras mix-in. I’ll sample the hemp drizzle. A sundae swirled with a mélange of root vegetables? Sure, why not?
But I’m still nostalgic for those parlors of yore, where the most exotic thing on the menu was rum raisin. In my moments of true sweetness weakness, I want nothing more than a thick mocha frappe, chocolate syrup, and coffee ice cream, served in a tall metal glass, the way nature intended.
Kara Baskin can be reached at kcbaskin@
gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.