by Larry Floersch
According to some sources, the creemee, incorrectly called soft serve ice cream in other parts of the country, was invented by accident in 1934, when Tom Carvel, the founder of the Carvel brand of ice cream, had a flat tire on his ice cream truck and had to sell his melting ice cream from a parking lot in Hartsdale, New York, to people passing by. He was so successful he went on to open a shop on the site of that truck breakdown. He also designed and patented low-temperature ice cream machines to make those creemees.
Dairy Queen, which also lays claim to inventing the creemee, offering an “all you can eat” trial sale out of an ice cream shop in Kankakee, Illinois, in 1938, went on to become the name most commonly associated with soft-serve ice cream.
What does it take to make a creemee? For one thing, it takes a machine similar to what Carvel invented. That machine needs to hold the ice-cream mixture at a low temperature, then blend in air and freeze the ice cream as it is dispensed. Creemee machines now come in a variety of brands, and prices vary depending on size (countertop or floor models), capacity, and versatility. A machine that provides tanks for two or more flavors and allows those flavors to be swirled together into the cone can cost well upwards of $20,000. There are even versions of creemee machines for your home.
But, as Carvel and Dairy Queen knew, it’s what goes into the machine that really makes the difference. Both Carvel and Dairy Queen kept their recipes a secret. Burr Morse at Morse Farm told The Bridge he uses a commercial vanilla-flavored mixture from Hood to which he adds his maple flavor.
According to Saveur magazine, the ingredients in soft serve are exactly the same as those in regular ice cream except the amount of butterfat. A creemee is lower in butterfat than a premium ice cream such as Ben & Jerry’s. But there are claims that creemees in Vermont are higher in butterfat than the soft serve ice cream sold in other parts of the country and that’s why the name “creemee” is used in the Green Mountain state.
The other major difference between a creemee and ice cream is the amount of “overrun” in the two products. “Overrun” is the technical name for the amount of air that is whipped into the mix. That’s where the creemee machine comes in. Most ice cream is 20 percent air; a creemee is around 40 percent, maybe higher.
It seems you can find creemees almost everywhere in Vermont in summer (and now winter, too)—gas station jiffy marts, eat-in restaurants, country stores. Even the big chain fast-food places offer soft serve. But to us here at The Bridge, going to get a creemee means something more than just hitting the drive-through at McDonalds. It is a specific act that often involves family, perhaps on a specific day, such as a Sunday afternoon. Going to get a creemee is an “end destination” if you will, not an afterthought. And it usually involves a specific place, a favorite place. Going to get a creemee is an “outing” that is especially summer.
In Central Vermont, going to get a creemee could mean something simple and close, such as the new walk-up window at The Porch on Langdon Street at Down Home Kitchen or the Meadow Mart in Montpelier or the walk-up window at Simply Subs on Main Street in Barre. To others, it could mean a short drive to Morse Farm on County Road in East Montpelier or Bragg Farm on Route 14. To our editor in chief, Mike Dunphy, there is only one creemee place: the Dairy Creme on Route 2. He told us when he was a child, his father would load the family into the car and drive all the way from Burlington to Montpelier to get creemees there, because his dad insisted they were the best and you got the most for your money.
But there are many more creemee places here in Central Vermont. What’s your favorite creemee place? Send us a note or an email and tell us your favorite place and why, such as our 11-year-old friend Jack Reeves did with his essay on ice cream in Vermont in this issue. By the end of the summer we’ll try to publish some of your responses.
Mail your responses to The Bridge at P.O. Box 1143, Montpelier, VT 05601, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org