If you’ve never visited an ice cream stand in a faraway state, you may not realize that your favorite flavor has regional roots. Unlike chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and all of their chip, cookie, and candy bar studded siblings, there are some American ice cream flavors that are unique to their respective region. In the Midwest they have Blue Moon, which is bright blue and rumored to taste like Fruity Pebbles cereal (if this is true, I need some ASAP). In parts of California and in Asian restaurants nationwide you can find sweet Red Bean ice cream. And here in New England, there’s Grapenut.
Traditionally speaking, Grapenut ice cream is a vanilla based ice cream with the toothsome, granulated breakfast cereal mixed in during the churning process. They’re added the same way Oreo cookies are added to Cookies & Cream, so by the time a scoop gets to you, the cereal is soft rather than crunchy, and its flavor has seeped into the vanilla base. It’s nutty and sweet, sometimes with plump raisins, and I’ve heard it’s delicious with warm maple syrup drizzled on top. There’s no clear reason why New Englanders love the hearty cereal in ice cream and pudding more than the rest of the nation, but we do, and we’re not stopping!
I have a long history with ice cream in New England, but until recently it did not include Grapenut. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I spent majority of my high school and college summers dishing out cups and cones from a large, multi-site ice cream stand operation based in Westford, MA, and while I ate hundreds of spoonfuls of ice cream over the years, if I ever tried Grapenut, I don’t remember it. What I remember most is the kind of patron who used to order it.
Here’s a quick recap of how I remember the customer/flavor breakdown:
- Kids ate anything colorful or with cookie dough/candy in it. Flavors like Strawberry, M&M, and the peanut butter cup strewn (and oddly named) Moose Tracks. With jimmies. Duh.
- Adults (at least the ones willing to defy their childhood favorite) went for gourmet. Flavors like Caramel Cashew Chip, Kahlua Crunch, Cherry Vanilla Chip, and German Chocolate Fudge.
- Seniors loved (and I mean LOVED) anything with fruit or nuts. Flavors like Frozen Pudding (a rum base with dried fruit), Maple Walnut, Butter Pecan, Pistachio, and yes…Grapenut. Heaven help us if we were out of one of these 5.
- Almost everyone liked Mint Chocolate Chip.
Despite scooping it into paper cups for a half-dozen summers, I finally tasted Grapenut Raisin ice cream for the first time a few weeks ago when I made a batch at home from a recipe in the Yankee archives. The verdict? Raisins aside (I just don’t care for them in ice cream but wanted to make the recipe verbatim the first time around), I absolutely loved it. The softened cereal lends a dense texture and nutty flavor to the vanilla base that was totally different from any other ice cream I’d ever had, almost like when you eat a bite of cake and ice cream together on the same spoon. Yum. What took me so long to try this delicious treat?
My fellow scoopers and I always considered Grapenut a “senior flavor,” but I see no reason why it should languish alongside Frozen Pudding (which, for the record, I do remember trying on a dare and very much disliking). If the seniors ordered it because they remember enjoying it as children, then that makes Grapenut a flavor with serious staying power, which I have to admire.
Whether it’s a new appreciation for an old classic or a maturing palate (I’m just as likely to order Maple Walnut now as I am Coffee Heath Bar), I’m delighted to report that Grapenut has a new spot on my own personal list of flavor contenders. Have you ever tried Grapenut ice cream? Do you have a go-to flavor?