Berger’s Burg: Some go to great lengths for their just desserts

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Ice cream first was advertised and sold in the United States on June 8, 1786. I simply love, adore, worship, revere and extol ice cream. Nobody likes ice cream better than I...

By Alex Berger

“I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.” — Americans from 2 to 99

Ice cream first was advertised and sold in the United States on June 8, 1786.

I simply love, adore, worship, revere and extol ice cream. Nobody likes ice cream better than I do. Never a day goes by without my swallowing a mouthful of the delicious treat.

Did you know that 75 percent of the men and women surveyed recently in a University of Illinois study on comfort food named ice cream as number one? In a group of 1,005 consumers, the survey found that comfort food preferences differed by age and gender.

In general, people from 18 to 34 preferred sweets. Those from 35 to 54 went for soup, pizza or pasta. Consumers 55 and above named mashed potatoes. But ice cream was number one, overall. Since comfort foods trigger associations with past happy times, the survey indicated that a scoop of ice cream is more than a tasty treat; it is a moment of respite, a peaceful pause and something to share with others.

Last week I was on assignment in Queens. It was a hot and muggy day, and I craved the cooling punch of my favorite ice-cream flavor, butter pecan. I was too far away to get some from my home freezer, but I knew that miracles sometimes happen, so I looked around.

In the distance, I heard the pleasant jingling of an ice-cream vendor’s bells. They rang out from his mobile refrigerator storing the frozen delights. I finally saw the truck parked majestically on the next block. But, the pitter-patter, and then a stampede of little feet began beating a path to the vendor’s vehicle. I quickly walked, trotted and then ran alongside the frenzied crowd. I knew it is not politically correct to race the tots to the ice cream, but this was an emergency. As I neared my goal, an aggressive toddler, in diapers, gave me a hip which sent me flying. Her mother’s glare was enough to disqualify me from the race.

You know, it has become very difficult for me lately to surpass the “terrible-two” contingent to the ice-cream truck. When the vendor’s call to arms beckons, all the voracious tykes within earshot run like gazelles to descend upon and surround the ice-cream vendor, elbowing and hipping everyone in their way. They must drink strength-enhancers with their milk.

T’aint fair, I say. Toddlers have a distinct advantage over us post baby boomers. They possess as much aural acuity in their little ears as canines. They hear the sound of the chimes, as well as a fellow toddler’s baby teeth crunching a French vanilla fudge sundae within a radius of one mile. And they use their diapers as weapons, too. So, quite often, I retreat with my tail between my legs to seek another source to satisfy my ice-cream compulsion. In defeat, I pondered my next move.

The local school was the logical answer. You can tell that ice cream is very important to school-age children just by watching their faces when a carton and a scoop appear. So, I inconspicuously sneaked into PS (censored) to await a party for a birthday child. I waited until I realized it was a Saturday.

My next attempt was to an adult residence. I had hoped one of the golden agers would offer me some of his ice cream. Instead, I was offered coffee, biscuits and even a candy bar, but no ice cream. Next stop — to a firehouse.

Firefighters often use ice cream in their rituals. When rookie firefighters complete their first assignment, it is ice-cream time for everyone. However, I was too late on this day. The rookies already had enjoyed their ice-cream treat. What to do? I contemplated. A brainstorm then hit me.

I love being a columnist. But, since I want my ice cream when I want it, why not apply for a job that places me nearer to it? So, I perused the want ads and, lo and behold, I found one — for an ice-cream taster. So, I got on the horn and dialed the number in the ad.

“If you want vanilla, press one. If you want chocolate, press two. If you want any other flavor, wait for a representative to help you,” the telephone crackled. I held on until a real person, a Miss Edy Turkey-Hill, answered. She was very friendly and gave me an appointment that day to see the head scooper, Mr. Ben N. Jerri. I then ran to his office as quickly as my ice-cream-deprived body would carry me.

“What are the requirements?” I inquired.

“To be an official ice-cream taster you must first love ice cream,” he said.

“I do,” I answered.

“If you measure up, your taste buds will be insured for $1 million. The rest of your body we will be insured for $12.99. Then you get to sample up to 60 ice creams a day.”

“Does that include Peanut Butter Blitz, Vanilla-Banana Cream Pie and Pecan Tootie-Fruity?”

No answer.

“The life of an ice-cream taster isn’t all a bowl of cherry ice cream. It involves rigorous work, requiring discipline and selflessness.

“For one thing, you don’t swallow on the job. Like a wine taster, you taste and discard.”

“Discard?” I questioned.

“Yes, you spit it out.”

“What a waste,” I incredulously said.

“And, with a gold spoon, you will take a smallish bite, swish it around to introduce it to all 9,000 of your taste buds, smack-smack-smacking your lips to aerate the sample. Then you gently inhale to bring the aroma up through the back of your nose.”

“That sounds gross,” I sniffed.

“With each step you evaluate whether the ice cream conveys a harmonious balance of dairy, sweetness and added ingredients — the three components of ice cream. Then, no matter how heavenly it is, you must spit it into a trash can. A full stomach makes for a dull palate.

“And remember, every flavor is distinct. Why, even plain vanilla, the best-selling variety, is very complex. You can be an important person, since most Americans consume 23 quarts of ice cream per person each year.

Incidentally, during the workweek, other sacrifices must be made: no eating onions, garlic or cayenne; no smoking, no alcohol and no caffeine. Caffeine will clog the taste buds, so your breakfast will be a cup of herbal tea. Think about it.”

I promptly hung up and raced home to Gloria to discuss the job with her.

She knew I would never spit out ice cream once it touched my lips. And, if I didn’t, she would soon have a jumbo Alex on her hands. “Hmm!” she said.

“Hmmm!” I said.

And I decided to keep my day job and go home for my ice cream.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at: or call 229-0300, ext 140.

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