Summer in Massachusetts always seems to be getting shorter while the oppressive New England winters drag on and on, until just one last blast of frigid wind cuts through you and you finally decide to move some place warm as soon as possible.
Of course that really only applies to those of us who have no interest in skiing, the winter Olympics or snow at all for that matter. And yet even we enemies of the arctic chill battle through those stormy months because New England truly is a wonderful place to live.
But, oh, those winters.
Back in early March I was driving through the slushy streets of my neighborhood and saw, what for me, signals that summer is almost upon us. We all have them – whether it is the beginning of spring training for the Red Sox, the summer sales in clothing outlets or your favorite watering hole preparing outside seating for the warm months ahead.
For me it is the opening of the Dairy Freeze in Quincy, MA. The minute that old sign by the side of the road reads, “Open Now! A Brand New Season!” a smile spreads across my face and I immediately start playing the Beach Boys on my car stereo.
And as March moves into April, May and June the people queuing up to get soft serve ice cream cones, sundaes, hot dogs, hamburgers and my favorite, Italian Ice, just gets longer and more animated as the heat continues to rise.
There’s also that bittersweet taste of nostalgia. I can remember many times as a kid after playing pickup basketball with my late friend Michael, heading down to the Dairy Freeze for a Raspberry Lime Rickey – his personal favorite. We’d just sit out on the curb watching all the girls walk by and arguing about who was the better Boston Celtic, Bill Russell or Larry Bird. I said Russell then and I still think I’m right. And like much in a young kid’s life, favorite hangouts become routine meeting places. Sometimes for a few months as friends come and go. Sometimes for years. And sometimes they follow you right down the line until you’ve got kids of your own.
My dad has memories of his father coming home from work with two quarts of vanilla soft serve when the concoction was relatively new in the area.
“This is the greatest stuff!” my grandfather exclaimed to his wife and kids. And before they could all even savor this new, sweet dessert, they’d emptied both containers like a bunch of Hoover vacuums; a Hurley family trait that remains to this day. The shelf life of ice cream in my household clocks in at mere minutes depending on the flavor. Yeah, we’ve all got a problem, but we try to deal with our ice cream addiction the best we can.
Soft serve ice cream actually has an odd history if one is to believe its connection to, of all people, Margaret Thatcher. The myth of the former British Prime Minister’s connection with soft serve ice cream begins with her graduation from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in chemistry. From there she went on to work at J. Lyons & Company, a food conglomerate, where she helped invent a method for whipping extra air into ice cream. The new product was taste tested and then became a quick hit in Britain.
Of course this strange bit of trivia is open to debate considering it really only came to light after Thatcher’s death in April of this year. But there is something ironically funny about a woman dubbed the Iron Lady inventing a universally adored dessert. The New Yorker even ran a piece debunking the story which you can read here.
When soft serve became hugely popular in the ’50s and ’60s John Wallace and John O’Farety decided to open a place of their own and the Dairy Freeze was born. It remains family run since its opening in 1963 and the little ice cream shop has become a summer South Shore favorite right up there with the Clam Box on Wollaston Beach, which opened five years later in 1968.
The Dairy Freeze may seem like a silly diversion for a grown man but then so is professional sports. And to be quite honest, I’m always much more satisfied with a three dollar lemon Italian Ice in my grip than a day at Fenway Park that cost me a week’s pay and my first born child. And I’m a Red Sox fanatic.
So I pulled into my favorite summer place the other day and as I was standing in line this little girl was handed her ice cream cone. Her eyes grew as big as saucers but she was very careful, very purposeful in how she ate her treat.
I asked her if she liked it. The girl smiled and said, “This is the best stuff ever!”
With that she spun away with her little sister, who had just received her cone, and the two danced around while their mom and dad, sharing a strawberry sundae, sat on the hood of their car and watched.
“This is the best stuff ever!”
My grandfather would certainly agree.
Dairy Freeze is open daily until October and is located at 635 Adams St. Quincy, MA.
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Contributed to the Masters Touch blog by Matthew Hurley.