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North Shore shops serve up ice cream and other treats

A customer sampled his black rasberry ice cream at Down River Ice Cream in Rowley.

Colm O'Molloy for The Boston Globe

A customer sampled his black rasberry ice cream at Down River Ice Cream in Rowley.

Summertime, when it’s too hot to cook, our family goes out for what we call a “backwards supper.”

The recipe? Head to an ice cream shop. Order a large cone or cup of something cold (though that might include hot fudge). Call it dinner.

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Our rationale? We visit independent, family-owned outlets — some new, some decades old — that churn their own ice cream and more, right on the premises or transport it from one location.

Think of Richardson’s Ice Cream in Middleton, where you can visit 150 of their 400 Holstein cows in the barn out back. With high-quality dairy products, fresh fruit, and other natural ingredients, ice cream can be a somewhat wholesome dinner. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.

July is National Ice Cream month, and this year, July 21 is National Ice Cream Day. But as this concocted holiday approaches, it’s clear that in the world of frozen treats, there’s a lot more available these days than ice cream.

For example, Richie’s Italian Ice of Everett produces a thirst-quenching, low-calorie slush. Meanwhile, the proliferation of froyo chains is making frozen yogurt new.

And don’t forget gelato, sorbet, minuta, and granita, not to mention milkshakes, frappes, floats, and freezes.

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With so much to choose from, it’s easy to start your own “backwards supper” tradition at scoop shops like these:

Cravings. Tin ceilings, tiled floors, wooden booths, spinning stools, and a marbled counter hint at the history behind this Wakefield soda fountain, opened in the 1920s as the Colonial Spa.

Ten years ago, Rick Campbell, who owned an ice cream store across the street, bought, restored, and reopened the shop. Long candy counters line either side, one filled with high-quality chocolates, another with novelty candies.

High on the wall, two wooden boards list 36 flavors of ice cream that Campbell churns in the back room. Some flavors are rotated; among the recent choices were tollhouse cookie, cherry chocolate chip, and seasonal sherbets such as mango or watermelon.

Prefer froyo or soft serve? There are more than 100 flavors, with the base ingredient blended with your choice of flavors right on the spot. There’s also a coffee bar, ice cream cakes, and catering for parties.

“I want to get married here,” my 11-year-old daughter’s friend said. You’ll say, “I do,” too.

(389 Main St., Wakefield; www.cravingsicecream.com)

Down River. Owners Joe and Amy Ahearn opened a shop on Route 1 in Rowley this April, south of the Agawam Diner, four years after opening the original Essex store. From mid-March through October, their growing, cult-like fans (including us) devour locally named flavors such as Hog Island (chocolate ice cream with brownie chunks) and green head (minty ice cream with chewy chocolate chips).

The Ahearns credit their son Bennett, a high school biology teacher, with creating popular seasonal concoctions such as Mrs. Clapp’s rhubarb elation, a rhubarb pie cut up into a tub of fresh strawberry ice cream, and Little Piggy’s, Vermont maple ice cream with Belgian chocolate-covered crispy bacon.

Next up? PB& J, a pure cream base — “like a glass of cold milk,” Amy says — with bits of gluten-free PB&J bars from Kim’s Pure Pastry in Beverly. Sounds like an ice cream lunch to me.

(120 Newburyport Turnpike, Rowley; 22 Main St., Essex; www.mydownrivericecream.com)

E.W. Hobbs. For a trip back in time, a must visit is E.W. Hobbs in the Salem Willows Park. Walk to the very end of the historic park to find long lines outside this 1897 ice cream stand.

Today, the fourth through sixth generations of Hobbses work there, some days three generations at once. Co-owner Charlie Hobbs makes the ice cream, and his sister, Priscilla, makes the salt water taffy with the 1920s mold her grandfather used.

According to Priscilla, the company introduced the ice cream cone to New England in 1906, two years after it was invented at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Grab a cone, or a wintergreen-flavored popcorn, and enjoy it by the ocean.

(207 Fort Ave., Salem; www.facebook.com/pages/EW-Hobbs/114487188598913)

Soc’s Ice Cream. For 36 years, Soc’s has occupied a large space on the Lynn Fellsway, on the Melrose-Saugus line. For the past 22 years, current owner Peter Calakoutis, also a chef-teacher at Everett High School, has been using Hood products to make his own varieties of ice cream, an estimated 750 gallons a week from March through December.

Besides ice cream, he makes a soft serve with 10 percent butterfat, which he says is twice the fat content of most soft serves; a nonfat frozen yogurt using Columbo products; and an Italian ice with his own recipe. In addition to well-known flavors, customers these days love the new caramel with chocolate-covered pretzels.

(67 Lynn Fells Parkway, Saugus; www.facebook.com/SocsIceCream)

Dolce Freddo Gelato. Since 2006, the company’s Methuen store has been cranking out about 120 flavors of gelato and sorbetto, which are also distributed to its newer stores in Newburyport and Portsmouth, N.H.

Italian-born owner Andrea Rossetto says his gelato would be “authentic for 30 years ago in Italy.” Though his gelato has less butterfat than the typical premium ice cream (5 percent vs. 16 percent), the taste is more intense.

Chocolate, the most popular flavor, “should be called ‘triple chocolate’,” Rossetto says, since it uses Ghirardelli chocolate from the United States, a chocolate from Belgium, and cocoa from Switzerland. Another popular choice is berry good sorbetto, a mix of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.

Granita, enjoyed in the south of Italy, is distinguished by a crunchy consistency between a frozen drink and Italian ice. In lemon or almond flavor, it’s served with a spoon and straw.

(300 Merrimack St., Methuen; 38 Market Square, Newburport; 908 Fleet St., Portsmouth, N.H.; www.dfgelato.com)

Frio Rico. “It’s nothing like you’ve ever had before,” a tall, English-speaking man said to us as we waited to order our first-ever minuta, or Peruvian shaved ice. This tiny market sells traditional foods like those you might find in Cuzco, a big city in the mountains of Peru, but is just a short distance from Logan Airport.

Struggling with our Spanish, we welcomed the mysterious man’s suggestion to try strawberry and lucuma (an orange-yellowy, native tropical fruit) topped with condensed milk. A woman worked the shaved ice machine like a potter’s wheel, spinning out shavings of clear ice, which she molded into gigantic snowballs in a cup. Our requested flavors, made with fresh fruit, were poured on top, followed by condensed milk.

Seeping deep into the cup, the flavors wowed us until the end. The verdict? Unlike anything we’ve had before. Move over chocolate and vanilla.

Muchas gracias, Frio Rico.

(360 Bennington St., East Boston; www.friorico.com)

Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathyshielstully@gmail.com.

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