There’s something about your first taste of ice cream. Whether you’re a child or an adult, the experience can often produce big feelings. Amy Ettinger paired her childhood memories of cold, sweet treats with her background in journalism and memoir writing to produce Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America, which releases on June 27th.
“I describe it as an ice cream memoir that has recipes, and also a rich history,” says Ettinger.
From her home base in Santa Cruz, California, Ettinger began perhaps the most jealousy-inducing form of work-related research possible: eating and making ice cream of all kinds.
Though her childhood memories were organized around giant tubs of generic ice cream, as an adult, she became a connoisseur of artisanal ice cream shops, trying out obscure flavors, but also getting to know the people who depend on ice cream for their livelihoods.
“There's a flip side of that ice cream world — the competition. It's a business for people,” says Ettinger. “Especially the ice cream truck wars in New York City — I was on the back of an ice cream truck in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, writing about a woman who defends her ice cream truck route. I write about the small artisanal shops around the country who are down the street from other large ice cream shops, and other small artisanal shops. How do you compete? How do you stay relevant?”
Ettinger’s winding journey through America’s ice cream world takes her from Brooklyn to Milwaukee, the only place you can get authentic frozen custard.
“I had no idea that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Dolly Madison were absolute ice cream fanatics,” she says. In fact, ice cream was so intermingled with the United States that it became the first thing many immigrants tasted upon arriving. “Ice cream is such an all-American dessert that it was given to people coming in to Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century as a way of helping them get acclimated to living in the United States,” says Ettinger. “Some people had never had ice cream before and they asked for it to be warmed up.”
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The author leads us through an elite ice cream-making intensive program at Penn State to intimate conversations with Jerry Greenfield (the Jerry in Ben & Jerry’s) and others making flavor decisions in small, innovative shops all over the country. And, finally, into her own kitchen where she learns about the difficulty— and delicious rewards, of making ice cream (she shares her recipes, too, so you can try for yourself).
“I wanted to write about my childhood, but I also was hoping that it would give people a sense of going back in time to their own childhood memories. We all have memories of eating ice cream with our families. Some of them are really positive, and for some people they might be negative, but they are very strong associations. That's really what got me started," explains Ettinger.
"I want to delight people. I hope that they read it with a sense of fun and curiosity.” One word of warning: Be sure to stock up on ice cream before you dig in.