Monday, August 24, 2009

Ice Cream Memories

By Judy Chamberlain

The soda fountain at Todd's Drugstore ca. 1910 (for more information on any image, click on the photograph)

Now that summer days are finally warming up, ice cream has become the snack of choice for children of all ages. Though many consider it an all-year-round treat, I enjoy ice cream, sorbets, and popsicles most in the summer. Really, who can ignore the bells of an ice cream truck as it swings into a neighborhood? As a child, I know that I couldn’t.

Ice cream was always deliciously special when I was growing up. Today we can readily buy pints of Ben and Jerry’s, Edy’s fruit bars, and Carvel flying saucers, but back in the 1950’s, most home refrigerators had small, inefficient freezer compartments with little extra space for frozen treats. If my parents brought home a quart of ice cream or some ice pops, we were forced to consume them immediately.

The solution to this dilemma was the Good Humor truck that seemed to come by at just the right time each day. Decked out in a white uniform with a silver coin holder on his belt, the Good Humor man was a kid’s summer hero. Gathering a crowd around him, he’d open the magic door that offered cool relief for all those who came running. He’d take an order, pluck out the frozen bar or cup, and deliver heaven to the waiting hand. Ah, the simple pleasures of childhood.

August J. Bruning behind the counter of his ice cream parlor ca. 1925

Because our apartment was on the fourth floor, as soon as I’d hear those bells enter the neighborhood, I’d quickly run to my building and start calling up to my mother to ask if I could get something. She too heard the bells, but didn’t want to walk down those four flights. So she would open a window and toss some money down. Though she usually wrapped the coins in a napkin or a hanky, they often scattered on impact and left me hunting in the grass for a glistening nickel or dime. And the next year, when I’d moved to Clunie Avenue, I was delighted to hear the bells of summer and discover that the Good Humor truck came to this street too, arriving just after dinner, the perfect time for dessert.

If you were in the village and wanted ice cream, nothing was better than August J. Bruning’s homemade. It was here that I ordered my first banana split and discovered that it was way too much of an ice cream treat for one little girl. Future visits brought me back to my favorite -- strawberry ice cream. Bruning’s eventually turned into the Cup and Saucer and remained a town favorite for years.

Jacobson's Pharmacy in 1929. The white signs in the windows read ‘Good Chocolate Soda’ and ‘Chocolate Malted Milks’. The sides of the main sign above the shop carry the Hydrox Ice Cream logo.

Ice cream parlors and soda fountains have always been popular in Hastings. If you found yourself at Doc Todd’s in 1910, you might have had a sarsaparilla or a dish of peach ice cream. From the late 1930s into the 1960s it was known as Joe Algeo’s Pharmacy. My Dad spent a summer working behind the counter as a “soda jerk,” whipping up cherry cokes and chocolate sodas with vanilla ice cream. Or maybe you went into Jacobson’s Drug Store in the 1940s and were tempted to sample the pineapple sundae or have a coffee ice cream cone while spinning on a fountain stool.

In 1924, Charles Liede operated an ice cream parlor at 2 Main Street. I think that had turned into The Sugar Bowl by the time I was growing up. This location may have also been the site of Adam’s Ice Cream Parlor. During the 1920s Billie Burke would often treat the local children to ice cream there, and not just to a one-cent size cone. The Historical Society records indicate that she would spring for the larger, five-cent serving. And the favorite new flavor back then was tutti-frutti. Now how special was that!

Of course, there were the neighborhood spots to stop in for something cool and creamy. Pantelemon’s, south of the Warburton Avenue Bridge, had a nice soda fountain, and so did Lambert’s on Farragut Parkway. Or you might go into Whitey’s market, near the bridge, and find the most flavorful ice pops around. There were many choices, many flavors, and many memories made each summer day in Hastings.

Sam Caruso mans the soda fountain in Jacobson's Pharmacy in 1946

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  1. What really did away with the ice cream parlors was the supermarket, where you could buy pre-packaged ice cream and toppings in jars, etc. Also Tom Carvel didn’t help the old parlors much. It was sad to see the fountains go, one at a time. I used to crave Gus Bruning’s home made lemon ice cream, both in sodas and sundaes. It was a great place to get your candy before going to a movie, and a cool treat after the show. When Gus departed the business went to the Lang family. Skip and his mother did most of the work, but it became too much for them and they sold the business to Sam and Nancy Caruso. The store had already morphed into a hangout, but thankfully it gave the teens a place to go year round. Classmate Steve Collins wrote me that his band changed some lyrics to the pop song “He’s So Fine” singing “Do Lang’s, do Lang’s, do Lang’s. I’ll add more about this band and also the Cup ‘N Saucer in later writing.

    The Sugar Bowl really rocked in the ‘Fifties. Jacobson’s was small but handy if you were already in the store waiting for a prescription. Panteleman’s and Lamberts were just as good as the others, but in neighborhoods where people didn’t need to invade the Village proper, in order to satisfy a sweet tooth.

    Joe Algeo had the very best ice cream in town. Horton’s loose packed was far better than Haagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s and Baskin-Robbins put together. It was the oldest Ice Cream Company in the US and was started in 1870 in New York. The flavors were unique and the cream content was off the scale, with little chunks of ice in it. It had real Elberta peaches in the peach, never ending rich swirls of thick fudge in the vanilla fudge, and sweet but not maraschino cherries in the cherry vanilla. The plain vanilla alone was like no other I have ever tasted. Borden bought them out in 1928. Then in the early Sixties, Borden Corporate discontinued the Horton recipes and closed the factory. J.M. Horton Ice Cream Co., 302 Columbus Ave. (74th-75th Sts.). I still have a steel ice cream container that Joe Algeo gave to my father as a remembrance of the old days. Great Blog Judy!!!

    Oh, by the way, there was one other soda oasis. My cousin John and I would routinely go to Dunn’s bar on Spring Street. He was in his late thirties and I was about ten when we walsed in the door on a very hot summer afternoon, “Butch” asking the bartender to set me up with a beer. As it was, Dunn’s had a range of beers on tap including the only bar to have draft birch beer. I can still taste it yumm! Dunn’s allowed grownups to bring kids in for a “beer” which was kind of a unique situation given the number of “gin mills” in town. Humm, now that’s food for thought!

    Bob Russell

  2. Wow, Bob! You are making me hungry! Thanks for the memories!