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Tom Kirkpatrick Sr.: Soft-serve ice cream is harbinger of spring

Here in northern Chautauqua County, a first sign of spring isn’t just the return of songbirds, popping tree buds or blooming daffodils but the opening of the Frosty Treat soft-serve stand in Irving. Around the last weekend in March, no matter the weather or the temperature, this purveyor of soft-serve ice cream and other treats opens.

Even on frigid evenings in late March or early April, it is no surprise to pass by and see long lines of parka-clad customers at both windows. For devotees of true soft serve, unless they know where to look, winter can be a time of want. As good as supermarket ice cream is today, it is no substitute for lovers of soft serve.

If you think about it, ice cream is really central to our American way of life. A lot of memories surround it.

One summer in the late 1950s in my hometown, a balloon floated over the local ice cream plant touting something called rainbow ice cream. A contest was held to guess the balloon’s height. Practically every kid in town, including me, entered. Naturally, I didn’t win. Anyway, even with all the hype, rainbow ice cream sadly wasn’t very good.

Back in those days, ice cream cones were not often dispensed in the home. A lot of refrigerator freezers were still limited to making ice cubes, so there was not room for ice cream.

For many, when the taste for ice cream struck, it was necessary to make a trip to the local soda fountain. There you could buy a cone or a hand-packed quart of your favorite flavor in a cardboard container with a wire handle.

In those years, my parents often would take my brothers and me out for ice cream cones during the summer. Usually we ate them in the car, and in order to keep ice cream from dripping on the upholstery, I quickly learned the proper method for managing a cone on a warm evening.

This method, which I can still picture my father demonstrating, was to keep the ice cream well licked, especially the area where it met the cone, to ensure that no ice cream dripped.

I did discover a sure way to beat the melting ice cream cone issue, though. One February, the flavor of the month was black cherry. One afternoon after school, several of my friends and I developed a taste for that black cherry ice cream.

We went to the ice cream shop and bought our cones and then headed home. Not a drip formed. The temperature was around 5 degrees with a light snow falling. It was perfect weather for eating an ice cream cone, as long as you checked each other for frostbite.

Sadly, much of my youth was spent without access to soft serve. But one spring, something called a Tasty Freeze opened, featuring soft serve. It opened a new world. This was a world made up of hot fudge sundaes – better described as ice cream peaks topped by glaciers of hot fudge and whipped cream set off by a cherry.

There were also milkshakes with vanilla ice cream islands covered in chocolate syrup rising from them.

However, the piece de resistance was a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate syrup that hardened, covering the ice cream in a shell. For a kid like me, that was living. And happily, it still is for my grandchildren.