A Sweet New Book Tells the Tale of An Ice Cream Binge Across America
For many of us, ice cream is a wonderful treat for a hot summer day or to reward a stellar report card. But for Bay Area Parent online/social media editor Amy Ettinger, it’s an obsession. Drawing from childhood memories and a curiosity about the boom in artisanal ice cream shops, the Santa Cruz resident went on a journey to learn about this treat’s evolution and why it remains America’s favorite frozen dessert.
Joining her on some of her travels were her 8-year-old daughter, Julianna, and journalist husband Dan White. The result was her new book Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America (Dutton).
What was the inspiration for the book?
I first had the idea when I was living in San Francisco and I was pregnant. I was eating a ton of ice cream. I’ve always eaten a lot of ice cream. I noticed all of these artisanal shops opening up all over San Francisco. Then, we moved to Santa Cruz and I noticed there were also a lot of artisanal shops opening up.
I was remembering all of the ice cream I would eat as a kid with my family. It was always kind of chaotic in our house with musical instruments playing and TVs blasting. My dad would bring home these large tubs of Rocky Road and then it was this time of calmness. So I wanted to take some of those childhood memories that I think a lot of people have and also look at it from a journalistic standpoint. Why are all of these shops opening? What are they doing?
In the book, you talked about your dad and how he helped you develop this love of ice cream. Do you feel like you’re doing the same with your daughter?
I think so. She came on a lot of the trips with me and we’ve eaten a lot of ice cream together and had these family memories together. I think when she looks back on it, she’ll have all of these wonderful and interesting associations with eating ice cream.
How often do you let her eat ice cream?
She eats a lot of it. She had it last night. She’ll have it today. I grew up with the rule that you get one big treat a day and we sort of keep to that. Often, the treat she has is ice cream and it’s not cookies and candy.
What does your family think of your obsession with ice cream?
My husband does not share my same obsession. We’ve always loved to eat. We love to go out to eat. We’re foodies, but he doesn’t have the same ice cream obsession.
But he is a journalist, so he understood what I was doing and he came along with me on some of these excursions that were really interesting.
I rode on the back of an ice cream truck in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to get a sense of what the ice cream truck wars are like out there. My family came with me and it was really fascinating. It’s not what you would imagine it to be on the back of an ice cream truck. There are no proper seats; we were sitting on a big cooler filled with drinks driving down the hot Brooklyn streets. There was a chef in Los Angeles who made oyster ice cream for us and Caesar salad ice cream and he [myhusband] ate it with me. He’s been a trooper.
Have you taught your daughter to make ice cream?
She’s helped me a little. One thing you can do with kids is to make ice cream in a bag (see sidebar). It’s a fun science project.
For my daughter’s eighth birthday, we had an ice cream social at the house. I made five or six different flavors. We had root beer floats and the kids got to make sundaes.
Does your husband have a favorite flavor?
While I was writing the book, my father-in-law got very ill and passed away. It just so happened that there was an ice cream flavor I wanted to try in the Palo Alto area. It was salted butterscotch. So I said, I’ll make this for you and I named it after my father-in-law. It’s called “The Victor.” My husband really loves it. He loves the flavor of it. He loves that his dad has a flavor named after him in the book.
A moment in your research that stood out?
The woman I went on the back of the ice cream truck with. Her name is Maria. Her dad was a Good Humor man in the 1940s and had traveled the same streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn for years. When he got old, she took over his route. Now she’s had turf wars with the other ice cream trucks on the route. She’s gotten into fistfights with these people. She’s been in jail trying to protect her route. I found that part of the story, from a journalistic standpoint, to be very interesting.
Do you ever think you’ll get into the ice cream business?
No. That is one thing the book taught me. I do not have the temperament to open my own shop. It requires an incredible amount of work. You need a lot of patience. It’s like a two-day process. …It did give me an appreciation for what these people are doing every single day.
Want to try making ice cream at home, but don't have a machine? Try this fun, easy recipe!