Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vintage Baskin Robbins

I've always loved ice cream. Always. Like many children, my first love in the frozen dessert category was Baskin Robbins. Blame it on my youth. In matters culinary as well as matters of romance, we are all a bit indiscriminate at first blush. By the time I reached age ten, however, I was outgrowing their allure—outgrowing them in both age and sophistication. I have, I confess, become a bit of an ice cream snob. And now that I make my own (and what a rude awakening: how many egg yolks?! how much cream?! yet it doesn't stop me), well . . . if I'm going to eat ice cream made by someone else, it's got to be sensational. All natural, intense taste, unique flavors. No plastic. I had heard once (was it true?) that Baskin Robbins used plastic in their ice cream, but maybe it was a vicious rumor; maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but I could swear I once did see something like a shaving of white plastic in my scoop of—what was it, rocky road? And yet . . . I do have a soft spot in memory for those "31 Flavors," a purely sentimental attachment. Baskin Robbins stores exist pretty much everywhere I've lived in the U.S., but I only associate them with one place, Chicago, and with one time in my life, ages five though nine. This is when my parents (mostly Mom) would take me out for ice cream and that's where we'd go. There was a Baskin Robbins in the Lincoln Park neighborhood that we would frequent: was it on Clark? I think it was. We'd go in, and here is what I remember: Those little chairs with attached half-tables, like a certain style of school desk; the chairs (the tables, too?) were pink. The waxy cups had pink and brown polka dots, and the tiny plastic spoon you were given to eat your treat with was also bright pink. If we got cones, I remember that I liked chocolate-based flavors, sometimes pink bubble gum or rainbow sherbet. My mother liked Jamoca Almond Fudge. My father, lemon custard or rum raisin. Someone liked Cherries Jubilee, probably also my dad, since there was a hint of rum in this one, too. But we didn't always get cones or simple cups. I remember that sometimes, my mother and I would share a hot fudge brownie sundae, and that seemed like pure decadence. I recall my mother letting me have the cherry, always. That she simply did not like maraschino cherries did not matter; it was still, to me, the ultimate act of maternal kindness to let me have the one-and-only anything. The hot fudge was sometimes not hot enough, often too thick, but it usually satisfied the craving anyway. And then there were those treats I sometimes picked from the refrigerator: ice cream (I always got the mint chocolate chip) slathered thick between two thin chocolate wafer cookies; clown cones, those goofy upside-down treats that made me laugh. So, while my tastes have gotten more complex, still there's a part of me that remembers the child's delight and manner of being easy to please. How could you be judgmental about something as giddy as ice cream on a hot summer day? Impossible. The dilemma now, though, since I know what goes into commercial ice creams (plastic aside), is whether to take my son to a store like Baskin Robbins. We've done it once or twice, but at six years old, he's already way more sophisticated than I ever was. His favorite store-bought flavor? Red bean ice cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Barring that, the Mr. Softee truck—so I guess there's hope for a classic American childhood yet.


  1. Those tiny containers of Haagen Dazs are adorable and irresistible!

  2. I was just Googling for "vintage Baskin-Robbins" and came across this blog. For some reason, that same wonderful memory of the pink cartons with brown polka dots came to me tonight, too! Thanks for describing your 31-derful memory of old skool B-R so eloquently. ;) Great blog!

  3. I worked at a Baskin Robbins while I was in High School from 1972-1974 in Westland, MI. I remember the little pink spoos to give the customers a taste-test of the ice cream. I believe Pralines 'n Cream was introduced at that time. It was a big hit. I love lots of good memories from working there.