November 05, 2006

Why Can't You Buy Grape Ice Cream?

One of my favorite mysteries from Why Do Pirates Love Parrots? is a great Imponderable submitted by Michael Johnson of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We've got grape candy, grape juice, grape jelly, and grape Popsicles. But where is the grape ice cream?

I contacted the folks at Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, Dreyer's, Breyer's, and got pretty much the same response as I did from Meredith Kurtzman, the gelato maker supreme at Otto, Mario Batali's informal outpost in Greenwich Village. The problem is that devoid of their skins, grapes have little taste other than sweetness (that's why grape juice is used as the main ingredient in many fruit drinks, so that the label can say: "100% fruit juice") -- it's very sweet, but the flavor is neutral. But if you try to incorporate the skins, the texture is ruined. There's a whole lot more to the explanation, which you can find in the book.

I was all ready to finish the chapter and move on, when it came to our attention that there IS such a thing as grape ice cream. And as far as we know, its birthplace is Tony's Ice Cream in Gastonia, North Carolina. I had a long chat with the Thomas Edison of grape ice cream, Louis Coletta, the grandson of Tony's founder, who reported that grape ice cream is most popular with kids and pregnant women.

Our intrepid reporters, Karen and Wilson Burdoff of Matthews, North Carolina, snapped photos of not just this important historical landmark, but the actual grape ice cream. You can find the photos here.