'Atlanta's Savory Stories': Ice cream
In WABE’s new series “Atlanta’s Savory Stories,” our food contributors Akila McConnell, a food historian, and chef Asata Reid explore our city’s culinary history while spotlighting a few local restaurants that correlate with that topic. This month’s episode: ice cream. Reid and McConnell began their conversation by rewinding the clock to 1870 in Atlanta.
“There was no air conditioning or even electric fans,” said McConnell. “Fashion dictated that women wear full dresses with numerous petticoats, and men wore jackets over their clothing. And just like any other Atlanta summer, it was hot — super hot.” The three staple ingredients for making ice cream — cream, sugar and ice — were generally easy to find in the South, but getting ice was a challenge in Atlanta, as McConnell explained.
It’s easy to forget that ice was simply inaccessible to people living in year-round hot climates for most of history. But everything changed in the mid-1800s. “The ice trade was the brainchild of Massachusetts entrepreneur Frederick Tudor, who was known as the ‘King of Ice,’” McConnell said. “Men would cut ice from the frozen lakes and rivers in Massachusetts … They would pack the ice blocks between sawdust, and then they would ship it all across the world, including places like Hong Kong, India, South America and the Southeastern United States, like right here in Atlanta.”
With ice, the popularity of ice cream exploded, not just because it’s delicious. “Back in the 1800s, it was considered dreadfully ‘fast,’ or very inappropriate in our terms, for a woman to eat at a restaurant,” McConnell said. “That was a sure-fire way for a woman to ruin her reputation … A great question then is, where could women meet? Of course, they could meet in their homes, but they would also meet at ice cream saloons.”
In present-day Atlanta, local ice creameries like Jake’s Ice Cream continue to thrive. Reid shared how Jake’s owner and namesake, Jake Rothschild, keeps innovating new ice cream-based treats. “He created ‘pupscream.’ It’s a dog-safe ice cream with finely grated veggies in it that are healthy for dogs,” said Reid. “It’s sugar-free, and it’s made with oat milk and a pumpkin base. And I don’t know if you have a dog, but I used to work in veterinary clinics, and dogs love pumpkin.” Another Jake invention, “haute milk,” uses a dairy-free oat milk base and low-glycemic sweeteners that’s diabetic-friendly.
Reid and McConnell spent a moment discussing their favorite flavors of ice cream — honorable mentions to black cherry, Jeni’s Butter Cake flavor and bubblegum (at least, when they were kids). Reid shouted out an unusual but unforgettable ice cream she remembers, saying, “When I worked at Dish in the Virginia Highlands under chef Sheri Davis, our pastry chef Jennifer Dorn produced my all-time favorite flavor. I can still taste it — the saffron ice cream … It was just sweet enough to tantalize, and that saffron flavor would bloom across your palette, as fragrant as it was delicious.”
Akila and Asata’s local ice cream and gelato recommendations:
Butter & Cream, Decatur – “One of my very favorite flavors is their ‘Persian rose.’ It contains pistachio and rose water … an absolutely divine flavor.” – McConnell
Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream, East Atlanta – “My favorite milkshake, made so thick you can hold that thing upside-down, and it will not fall out of the cup — and that is the Mexican malt shake.” – Reid
Honeysuckle Gelato, Ponce City Market – “Their bourbon pecan praline just screams classic Southern flavors. The Nutella was a hit with my daughter because she’s obsessed with that stuff. And I’m a fan of the chai gelato.” – Reid
Paolo’s Gelato Italiano, Virginia Highlands – “Paolo’s might be the only gelato shop in Atlanta that’s run by an actual Italian … Paolo is a total character. His outgoing personality is as much a part of the experience as his highly praised gelato.” – Reid
Big Softie, Summerhill – “Some of my favorites are their classic vanilla with strawberry shortcake crumbles or pink praline. They even have a passionfruit hard shell, which is perfect with some toasted coconut topping. And best of all, if you are vegan or can’t handle dairy, Big Softie has a vegan oat vanilla flavor.” – McConnell
How to make Chef Reid’s no-cook fried ice cream bars:
– Create a crunchy coating with crushed corn flakes.
– Mix 2 quarts of vanilla (or your favorite) ice cream in a bowl and stir until slightly melted and spreadable.
– Spread a layer of cereal mixture onto a clean, ungreased baking sheet.
– Place scoops of softened ice cream onto the cereal layer and spread out with a spatula.
– Pat down the remaining cereal mixture onto the ice cream until it sticks.
– Drizzle with honey, chocolate, or caramel sauce and cover with aluminum foil.
– Freeze for at least 5 hours, slice into bars, and serve.