Sundaes, splits and ice cream sandwiches -- could there be a sweeter excuse for a summer party?
There's something irresistible about ice cream socials -- and we're not just talking about frozen scoops, fruity syrups and violently pink cherries. They're a throwback to a simpler time, when towns were small, striped bunting adorned everyone's front porch and John Philip Sousa was a young whippersnapper with a band.
But some things never grow old -- and a retro ice cream social might just be the best party idea ever. Set out the ice cream, the toppings and cherries -- fresh Bings, marinated in Luxardo cherry liqueur for the grown-ups and pomegranate juice for the kiddos -- and you've just given your guests permission to indulge their inner child.
"Ice cream socials? We don't do that enough," says Oakland food writer Jennie Schacht, an ice cream lover whose "I Scream Sandwich!" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $19.95, 176 pages) came out last year and features recipes for homemade ice cream, cookies, and toppings and mix-ins of all sorts.
Schacht says she was "raised prenatally on ice cream. My mom was an ice cream fanatic. Her dad had a drugstore with an ice cream fountain. Ice cream runs through my veins."
Throw a modern ice cream social and you can dabble in all sorts of flavor combinations, and offer up a DIY ice cream sandwich bar as well as the requisite sundae station.
Make it an ice cream social potluck -- ask guests to bring an ice cream and a topping, for example -- and you've just amped up the surprise factor, says Ashley English, a North Carolina food writer who has hosted themed parties since childhood. She's thrown "back to childhood parties" with sliders and Slip'N Slides, mad scientist Halloween fetes and every other type of bash, including a New Kids on the Block-themed potluck when she was 12.
When everyone participates, "People have these memorable get-togethers and everyone remembers it. The experience is heightened," says English, who describes those parties in loving detail in "Handmade Gatherings" (Roost Books, $34.95, 258 pages). "For the most part, people are very, very creative. Some people make their own; some pick it up at a local ice cream store. They do fudge, caramel, nut toppings. I make maraschino cherries."
You end up with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, of course, but also blackberry-mint and peach-praline. And the sundae toppings include homemade marshmallow fluff, sugar and spice nuts, and those sinfully boozy cherries.
As for the ice cream sandwiches, guests will enjoy mixing and matching their own -- but Schacht's Better-Than-It might be the perfect inspiration. It's a riff, of course, on San Francisco's classic It's It, the chocolate-coated, oatmeal cookie-encased treat, first sold at Playland at the Beach in the Roaring '20s. Playland is long gone, but the treat still can be found, frozen to an excruciating solidity, in supermarket freezer cases.
Schacht's version uses a not-too-sweet vanilla bean frozen custard, soft cookies and a half-dip for visual appeal. All the components work beautifully on their own, but together, well, it's really it.
Set out the parts and let guests assemble their own -- whether it's a ginger cookie with lemon curd ice cream, snickerdoodles with apricot ice cream or a whimsical twist on the banana split theme that uses a bun to hold three tiny scoops of ice cream, banana slices and toppings.
"Put out bowls of sprinkles, nuts and brittle, and let people roll the sides," Schacht says.
Make those nuts her Maple-Buttered Pecans, and it really will be the cherry on top.