"A plate a day" read the motto on stationery of a restaurant owned by relatives in the early 1900s. "A plate of what?" you ask. Pasta? Chicken? Blackberry pie? No, in the desert of central Arizona, it meant a plate of ice cream, year-round. And while that shop selling ice cream, cactus candy, and sandwiches is now long gone, my family members still follow the tradition and maintain close personal connections to the frozen confection.
In this family, no one is ever too old or too young to enjoy ice cream. One oft-repeated tale at family gatherings was how my father, then a 1-year-old sitting in a high chair during a family meal out, suddenly snapped to attention and began eagerly pointing at a waitress across the room. She was serving ice cream, and he (apparently already aware of the plate-a-day motto) wanted some, too (and got it).
The elderly cousin who loved to share this story also added her own tale to the family lore. Known for doting on her dogs, she reportedly even took them out for ice cream. She must have felt it would have been cruel not to share – especially in the middle of a Phoenix summer.
Members of my family are known to have an internal "ice-cream map," the ability to track sources of good (or even so-so) ice cream, not just locally, but statewide, nationwide, and even globally.
My husband teases about how I'm able to remember the locations of ice-cream shops up and down the state. But sometimes I find that it's hard to keep up with changes, and gaps in the map can cause great disappointments. On a trip to rural northern England, for example, we couldn't seem to find real dairy ice cream in the grocery, and on a recent August drive up California's central valley, we couldn't find any ice cream at all for more than a hundred miles.
With four of us packed into my unair-conditioned hatchback, and temperatures over 105 degrees F. outside, we were desperate for milkshakes, sundaes, anything cool and ice-creamy. We figured there must at least be a small frosty-cone place out there somewhere, but after two unsuccessful detours, we were ready to give up. Then my younger stepson spotted what appeared to be a giant cone sign in the sky over Merced. Hopeful, we exited the highway once again and began snaking toward the sign, turning east, then south, then east again, trying to keep it in view, until we found the base of the signpost – outside a propane fuel facility.
What had looked like an ice-cream cone from a distance was only their logo. But just down the block we found an authentic old-fashioned drive-in where they still made shakes by hand. So our ice-cream crisis was averted.
Admittedly, in the middle of summer is when you need ice cream the most. But even now, in winter, ice cream is the dessert of choice for the descendants of this ice-cream parlor family. It may be chilly outside, but it's never too cold for ice cream.
So along with our pumpkin pies and spritz cookies this holiday season, we'll be churning and eating ice cream, carrying on a hundred-year-old family tradition. We may not eat the plate a day recommended in 1905, but we still enjoy a bowl (or cone or cup) for every occasion.