Julia Reed: My Salute to Baskin-Robbins

When I was a child, I loved visiting my mother's family in Nashville every summer, not least because there was a Baskin-Robbins within biking distance from my cousin's house. We went every day, alternating between our favorites—daiquiri ice, pralines and cream or banana chocolate chip—depending on the weather or our moods. By the time a franchise opened in my own hometown of Greenville, Miss., I already had a driver's license (available in those days at 15!), and the trips my best friend and I made in my Mustang convertible were evidence of our short-lived perch, straddling innocent youth and reckless young adulthood: we were frequent customers at a certain gas station where a six-pack of Miller "ponies" could be had with no ID, but also at the ice-cream counter, where we just as happily availed ourselves of one of B-R's "31 Flavors."

So when Irvine Robbins died in May at 90, I shed a nostalgic tear. What a nice fellow he must have been, brainstorming flavors (more than a thousand over the years) with his brother-in-law Burton Baskin, with whom he went into business in 1948. There was Cocoa a Go-Go (launched during the go-go dancing craze), Lunar Cheesecake (introduced the day after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969), Baseball Nut (complete with raspberries for the umpires) and Lox and Bagels (which never made it out of the lab).

Mr. Robbins lived and breathed ice cream—his breakfast was cereal topped with a scoop of B-R banana, and his backyard pool was shaped like an ice-cream cone—and he was a genius at marketing the stuff to the masses (there are now 5,800 franchises nationwide). But he was by no means the first in this country to do so. Though Thomas Jefferson is often credited with introducing ice cream to America when he returned from France in 1789, the food historian Damon Lee Fowler points out that the Colonial governor of Virginia served it in Williamsburg, and in 1784 George Washington acquired a "cream machine for ice." Still, Jefferson was a big fan, building an icehouse at the White House—so that what had been a seasonal delicacy could be enjoyed throughout the year—and employing a servant whose only duty was to turn the ice-cream maker during the Independence Day open house of 1806.

By 1867, when Annabella Hill published the influential "Mrs. Hill's Southern Practical Cookery and Receipt Book," the dessert was so popular that she included a note with her recipes: "It is to me a matter of astonishment that every family is not supplied with a patent ice-cream freezer." We had one when I was a kid—a messy, prehistoric electric model requiring rock salt and so much patience that my mother used it to make a memorably delicious peach ice cream exactly once.

This summer I bought a much-improved version, a Cuisinart Supreme Commercial Quality Ice Cream Maker, which, at $299.95, is not cheap, but still a bargain due to its reliable one-step operation that produces a quart and a half of ice cream with no more trouble than the setting of a timer. Old-fashioned peach remains my summer favorite, and Fowler says his recipe (four to six ripe peaches, a half cup of sugar, the juice of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a quart of heavy cream) has been credited to Monticello.

In tribute to Mr. Robbins, I also plan to add his favorite, Jamoca Almond Fudge ("a classic since 1959"), to my repertoire with a slight variation. First, I'll make the excellent coffee ice cream in the Cuisinart recipe booklet, then I'll top it with "The Silver Palate Cookbook's" Chocolate Fudge Sauce and some roughly chopped toasted almonds. For a particularly grand presentation, you can make like Jefferson and stuff the scoops into warm profiteroles, though I have a feeling that Robbins would have found that a tad pretentious.

Julia Reed: My Salute to Baskin-Robbins | News