I used to dream about Goop's Scoop. It was just a soda fountain on a stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard that was still pretty rural in 1950, but it had a magical glamour to me. My older brothers hung out there, and from them I drew a glittering picture of ice cream treats and the enthralling social life of Van Nuys High School.
One of my brothers promised to take me to Goop's the night before he went off to college, but enthralling teenage social life distracted him and he never did. And by the time I was old enough to visit soda fountains on my own, Goop's Scoop was closed.
I was both a beneficiary and a victim of the post-World War II ice cream orgy. With the war over, Americans celebrated the end of all the Depression and war-time privations by gorging on ice cream. In 1946, we ate 20 quarts per capita, twice as much as before the war. Ice cream was known as "milk in its finest form." It was a golden age of soda fountains.
But by 1950, the tide had turned, and soda fountains were disappearing at a rate of more than a thousand a year. The economy had returned to a peacetime footing, so people had a lot more things to spend their money on. Sure, they kept on eating ice cream. More and more, though, they bought it at the supermarket and ate it at home.
And sure, there were still ice cream shops, but they were no longer real soda fountains. They mostly served cones, and they came to emphasize having a vast range of flavors. I suspect the novel flavors were prefabricated sundae-substitutes, requiring no soda jerk skills to concoct.
That wasn't good enough for me. I was still hooked on soda fountains, so I made do with the ones that survived in drugstores. To my child's eye, they were like ice cream cathedrals. In the middle stood the gleaming chromed console of the soda fountain itself, with its levers and spigots and bottles of colored syrups, surrounded by uniformed acolytes in white caps. The air was filled with a heady incense of vanilla, chocolate, whipped cream and toasted almonds.
The fountain console, where the soda jerk dispensed soda water (by jerking down a lever) and mixed shakes, was the central attraction and the most American thing about the soda shop. Drinks made by blending ice cream with milk or sparkling water were our particular national taste.
Well, a malt or a milkshake was fine with me, but what I wanted was a sundae. It wasn't just a glass full of liquid. It had structure and complexity. It had scope.
The legend of the sundae is well known. In the 1880s, Prohibitionists promoted the soda fountain as a wholesome alternative to the saloon. When a garnished ice cream dish was invented in the 1890s, so the story goes, it was called a Sunday at first, because it was served on that day, but the spelling was changed to "sundae" to avoid giving offense.
Well, maybe that's how the name arose, but I just don't think Americans invented the sundae from scratch. It's a legacy from the gilded cuisine of 18th century France. The sundae is the American version of the coupe glacee--bigger, less refined, more varied and more exuberant than the French original.
Like the coupe glacee, the sundae was not supposed to be served, as a plain scoop of ice cream would be, on an everyday plate. It had to be served in glistening, transparent glass, so it could be properly admired. For their coupes glacees, the French often used the sort of long-stemmed glass with a wide bowl that Americans thought of as a Champagne glass 30 or 40 years ago. In this country, an ice cream coupe was more likely to be a short-stemmed, rather sturdy glass bowl with a broadly triangular profile.
And then there was a taller glass, much the same as a milkshake glass but sometimes with quasi-floral curvature toward the top, that was known as a sundae glass or parfait glass. In France, a parfait was a concoction that was assembled and then frozen--a simpler version of the frozen ice cream mold known as a bombe--but an American parfait was created in the glass by building up layers of ice cream, sauces and garnishes.
Finally, there was our national specialty, the banana split bowl--made of glass, naturally, but long enough to hold a split banana saddled with scoops of ice cream.
A coupe glacee is basically ice cream garnished with fruit and whipped cream, and so were the first sundaes. But early on, the distinguishing mark of a sundae came to be the presence of a sauce. A 1904 newspaper story said you could make your own sundae at home by making rich vanilla ice cream and pouring the syrup from preserved fruits over it.
In the golden age of sundaes, a soda fountain would have a generous palette of sauces: chocolate, marshmallow, butterscotch, caramel, pineapple, coffee, cherry and often others. One of the oldest sundaes, dating from the beginning of the century, is the Hot Maple: vanilla ice cream, hot maple syrup and walnuts.
To the syrup spectrum, add the basic building blocks: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, occasionally augmented by peach, pineapple, pistachio, cherry, coffee or peppermint. Then add fruits such as bananas and canned pineapples, sometimes even seasonal fruit.
Finally, throw in shredded coconut, toasted almonds, salted peanuts and various other nuts and occasionally something just for texture, such as vanilla wafers or (no kidding) fried chow mein noodles. And top the whole thing off with freshly whipped cream and a maraschino cherry, either red or green.
Hey, do the math. The sundae world was immense.
The French hadn't really enterprised the territory with their coupe idea. Consider a dessert boastfully named the coupe imperiale: strawberries sprinkled with orange juice topped with vanilla ice cream.
Escoffier was moving in the right direction at the turn of the century with the peach Melba, which is vanilla ice cream with poached peaches and raspberry puree. Nice, but nothing to set beside a banana split (such as Americans were already making in Escoffier's time) with three flavors of ice cream, a syrup of choice (caramel would be good), chopped nuts and, of course, whipped cream and cherries.
In 1936, a vertical banana split was invented and named the banana skyscraper. It was tall food before its time. A banana was quartered lengthwise; a scoop of vanilla ice cream went into a tall sundae glass and the four strips were arranged vertically around the glass. Then the cavity between them was filled with chocolate ice cream, followed by the inevitable coda: chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a cherry.
Admittedly, most sundaes were far more basic. More typical were the black and white (vanilla ice cream, chocolate and marshmallow syrups) or the Hoboken (chocolate ice cream with crushed pineapple or pineapple syrup).
But soda jerks liked to make a name for themselves. That's how the world got baroque creations like pineapple temptation sauce (chopped pineapple, pecans, maple syrup and marshmallow syrup) and the Waldorf parfait (successive layers of crushed strawberries, softened vanilla ice cream, crushed pineapple, softened strawberry ice cream, crushed raspberries, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and nuts).
In the 1980s, Americans reacted against the fussiness and sometimes downright weirdness of Nouvelle Cuisine, and one heard a lot of talk about the Diner Revival. There was a spate of self-conscious lunch counters promising retro-'40s American food.
My heart leaped. Would they revive the soda fountain?
Alas, no. The diner people never grasped the spirit of the thing. The only sundae concepts that really resonated with them were the banana split and the brownie sundae: ice cream served on top of a brownie (and I suspect that's because of the craze for cookie dough ice cream). The soda fountain never really came back.
And that was when I really, really regretted that I'd never gone to Goop's Scoop.
A true lime sundae requires lime sauce, but Tasters in The Times Test Kitchen found this lime ice cream wonderful on its own. It was developed by Test Kitchen cook Mayi Brady. She also came up with the Apricot Sauce and Blackberry Sauce below.
LIME ICE CREAM
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Grated peel of 2 limes
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons lime juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup lime juice
1 cup water
Grated peel of 1 lime
1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
LIME ICE CREAM
Bring milk, cream and lime peel to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Whisk sugar and egg yolks until well blended. Slowly pour hot milk mixture into sugar and yolks, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until custard thickens, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Add lime juice and chill. Strain. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
Bring sugar, lime juice, water and lime peel to boil, stirring constantly, in saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as syrup comes to boil, stop stirring and boil 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Strain before serving. Makes about 2 cups.
Scoop ice cream into bowls and drizzle with lime syrup. Top each with 1 tablespoon macadamia nuts.
4 servings. Each 1/2-cup serving with 2 tablespoons syrup:
488 calories; 60 mg sodium; 291 mg cholesterol; 34 grams fat; 44 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.44 gram fiber.
1 pound apricots
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
Grated rind of 1 lime
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
Pit apricots and cut into quarters. Bring apricots, brown sugar, lime juice and rind and water to boil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until apricots are very tender and sauce has darkened slightly, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter until melted. Pure in blender until smooth. Serve warm over vanilla ice cream.
Makes 1 1/4 cups. Each 2-tablespoon serving without ice cream:
70 calories; 26 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams protein; 0.27 gram fiber.
2 cups blackberries
1/4 cup water
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter
Bring blackberries, water, sugar, lemon and lemon rind to boil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until berries fall apart and sauce has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes depending on ripeness of berries. Stir in butter until melted. Strain through fine mesh sieve. Serve warm over vanilla ice cream.
About 1 cup. Each 2-tablespoon serving without ice cream:
76 calories; 29 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams protein; 1.48 gram fiber.
More Sundae Reading: Nancy Silverton's take on three ice cream sundae classics and a Thai-style sundae with coconut ice cream and sticky rice. H8