FX Excursions

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The Scoop on Seasonal Treats

by Janice Hecht

Jun 18, 2018

The current farm-to-table trend in dining is nothing new to this Connecticut farm girl.

Well, truth be told, I didn’t exactly grow up on a farm. I didn’t gather eggs from the henhouse every day (eggs were delivered to our 1950s neighborhood by “the egg man”). And I didn’t have to rise at dawn to milk the cows (our milk — pasteurized but not homogenized — was delivered by the milkman, fresh from Maple Tree Farm, down the road a piece).

I did grow up next to a farm with cow pastures and fields of corn and other vegetables in North Branford, a town that began as a mill and farming community in Colonial times, in a land the Algonquins called Totoket.

By the time I was 7, I was allowed to walk or bike over to Shapiro’s farm with a few dollar bills to buy ears of sweet corn or June peas or string beans for that night’s supper. Mrs. Shapiro always “opened” the ears of corn to make sure there were no worms among the neat little rows of kernels. Just before suppertime, my brother and sister and I would sit on the back stoop and pop the little peas out of their pods, string the beans or shuck the corn.

We grew up living “seasonal and local” before anyone used that term. And we picked our own before “pick your own” was a tourist experience.

We ate strawberries only in strawberry season, by themselves or atop home-baked shortcake with fresh whipped cream. As soon as school was out for summer, my brother and I and a few friends rode our bikes to Doolittle’s farm at 6 a.m. to pick strawberries … not for consumption, though we ate our share while picking, but to earn money (7 cents a quart!) to spend at the carnival that came to town at the end of June.

July brought blueberries, when we’d pluck the ripe, wild berries that grew along the shore at my aunt’s house. Peaches came later, in August, and my parents would stay up late “putting up” quart jars of sliced peaches, whose warm orange glow and syrupy sweetness were welcome in the depths of winter.

But of course, my favorite seasonal food as a kid was ice cream. Not that it wasn’t available all year long at ice cream parlors and in grocery stores, but our refrigerators back then had tiny freezer compartments and we didn’t stock up on half-gallons of different flavors as we do now. Ice cream was a treat and a social experience, reserved for balmy summer nights when most of the town seemed to congregate at the Polar Joy, where the soft vanilla or chocolate ice cream swirled out of machines into cones and then was dipped in rich chocolate or covered in sprinkles. There was also the ice cream man — the Good Humor truck with jingling bells, which put us all in good humor on a hot afternoon. And the special treat was stopping at Maple Shade Dairy on the way back from the beach for hand-packed, made-on-the-premises creamy delights in a dozen flavors.

With summer arriving this week, and a mini heat wave upon us in Connecticut, I’m looking forward to an ice cream treat. We might head out to Shady Glen, a vintage diner just around the corner, celebrating 70 years in business and most famous for its ice cream. Or there’s Royal Ice Cream Co. across town (family-owned for four generations and in business since 1926), which makes decadently creamy ice cream treats using a high-percentage butterfat base.

But I’m really looking forward to sampling the hottest trend here: spicy ice cream. HotScream — developed and made in Connecticut but now also available in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey — blends the best of two flavor sensations, hot and cold. Escape Brands developed the concept, and so far created three flavors using Royal Ice Cream’s premium vanilla ice cream: Strawberry Swirl (with a sweet strawberry and spicy swirl); Ginger Swirl (with an indulgent ginger and spicy swirl); and Chocolate Swirl (with a decadent chocolate and spicy swirl). The recipes use eight different hot peppers to create the spice, nicely cooled off by the vanilla ice cream.

I just might have to sample all three flavors of our local treat if this heat wave continues.

And, by the way, for those who do not live in this area, if Escape Brands follows its mission to bring its innovative treats to the world, you just might find HotScream in a store near you.

— Jan Hecht, senior editor


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