You can't find a more Western New York dessert than cinnamon ice cream. It's served at birthday parties and funerals, Halloween parties and graduations.
But not just any cinnamon ice cream, you understand. Quaker Bonnet cinnamon manages to be zingy and sweet at the same time. It's been popular in this neck of the woods since the 1930s when the restaurant was owned by
Hal Hayes and located at the corner of Elmwood and Bryant.
Liz Kolken bought the place in 1978. "I'm the new girl," she says. Kolken now operates on a takeout/catering basis at 69 Chenango St. and opened the Quaker Bonnet Eatery restaurant at 175 Allen St., with her son, Ben Kolken, earlier this year.
Buying the Quaker Bonnet came with a bonus: its famous recipes for goodies, including coconut cake with lemon filling and meringues.
"I also got the recipe for licorice ice cream," Kolken says. But she's never been tempted to try it. The color might be unpredictible.
Things have changed for cinnamon over the years. Again, color is the issue. "In the old days, the ice cream was a vivid hue," says Kolken. "Like a Barbie pink."
But then the FDA said that particular food dye was a carcinogen and took it off the market.
So now the ice cream is pale, pale pink. "We purposely don't put a lot of food coloring into it because it offends me to use too much food color," Kolken says. "But people won't buy cinnamon ice cream if it has no color in it.
"We eat with our eyes as well as our stomach."
The cinnamon flavor, she explains, comes from oil of cassia, which in turn comes from the the pods of the cinnamon tree. Quaker Bonnet purchases it by the gallon from a California firm, and it is both expensive and strong. The Bonnet only uses about seven teaspoons of oil to 20 gallons of cream.
They do make a lot of ice cream, though. The Quaker Bonnet turns out 20 gallons of cinnamon ice cream every other week because Kolken thinks that ice cream should spend no more than two weeks in the freezer to be at its best.
"We get at least one request a week from displaced Buffalonians," she says, "but we haven't been able to ship in dry ice since the September 11 attack. So we tell them to go to their pharmacy and see if they can get a little bottle of the cassia oil.
"Then they should add it into vanilla ice cream with an eye dropper."
Kolken is nothing if not a perfectionist. She's very fussy about her wares. "We don't sell the ice cream to people who tell us they aren't going home right away," she says. Visions of refrozen ice cream complete with crystals continue to haunt her.
And what's the best topping for the spicy/sweet dessert?
Quaker Bonnet Fudge sauce another Western New York classic. They sell a lot of that, too.
"Ours is a grainy sauce," Kolken says. Why?
"It's grainy because I like it that way," she says.
-- Janice Okun