National Soft Serve Ice Cream Day: Why is it car-related?

Guilty pleasures.  While doing some personal development work last week, I was asked to list my guilty pleasures. It was an interesting assignment, not really something I had chronicled before. In my review, one personal habit rose quickly above the others. My number one guilty pleasure is my trips (often secret) to procure soft ice cream cones.

Like many of the world’s greatest discoveries, soft serve ice cream was born in the midst of a potential disaster. An ice cream truck driver named Tom Carvel found himself with a flat tire on a very warm Memorial Day weekend in 1934. Because of the mechanical arrangement of his refrigeration, if the tires weren’t rolling, the ice cream was not being kept at a temperature that maintained freezing. So as he pulled off to the side of the road, the ice cream slowly started melting.

As the legend goes, Tom kept trying to fix the flat so he could get moving, but customers kept interrupting him and stalling the process. I mean, a lot of customers. It occurred to him that many were repeats, folks who could not get enough of his “soft” ice cream.

Tom was not a dumb guy, so he contemplated what it all meant. This near disaster turned into a very, very good sales weekend. Fired by his experience, a few patents and an entrepreneurical spirit, Tom opened the first soft serve ice cream store on the very location where he tried to fix his flat.

For those who must know, soft serve is created by quick freezing a prepared mixture while injecting air into the process. A soft serve machine keeps the chilled mixture at the ready. When an order is made, the lever pulled and the mix and air are combined in a quick freezing chamber. And voilà! Soft serve ice cream falls into a waiting cone or cup.

The “secret ingredient” in the process is the injected air. It creates the consistency and texture we love while enhancing the taste. Part of the process I enjoy is “keeping up with the melt.” Of course that requires the finding of the sweet spot of quick consumption while avoiding the agony of brain freeze.

Having raised 7 children, I was often the beneficiary of helping them win their respective races against the melt. Of course they didn’t always win. What parent doesn’t know about that cleanup job? But still we go back.

My earliest recollections of soft serve are from the 1950s and a Polar King Ice Cream store in Minnehaha, Washington. I wasn’t very big, so a stop at the Polar King was sorta like Christmas, it didn’t come very often. I did not have a trained, experienced palate, I could not verbally define what it was about soft serve I liked, but I, with the enthusiasm that only children have, was sure it was the best food ever invented.

I once arrogantly and selfishly thought I was keeping secret my favorite soft serve store (I admit foolishly should be added to that statement!). East Wind as it’s now known is in the town of Cascade Locks, Oregon. It is but a few miles up the road from me. In the days of our family being young, we never went into the Columbia River Gorge without stopping there. Eastbound or westbound, my children and I would not allow passage without the ice cream toll in Cascade Locks.

I honestly thought it was my secret. I had decided not to tell anyone else under the silly illusion if I told someone they would sneak up there and eat my ice cream. Fame of the place spread without my help. It became obvious to me through conversation with friends and the long lines always present at East Wind, that many, many families paid the same toll in Cascade Locks.

Part of the fame of East Wind is portion size. “Small” at East Wind would be “giant” anywhere else. It’s nearly impossible to consume the cone before melting. Most admit defeat in the beginning and get a large soda cup and spoon and upend the cone into the cup.

It was recently announced that National Soft Serve Ice Cream Day is August 19. Now, this is a national holiday I can celebrate! I encourage all others, young and old to join me.

Let’s be honest, we’re all grateful for Tom Carvel and his discovery on what started out to be a very bad day for him. Let’s all raise a cone, guilty pleasure or not, and salute how he turned potential disaster into victory on this coming August 19.






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