mello roll

Mello Memories

The overwhelming choice of ice creams available these days has short-circuited the nerve endings of my desires. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in ice cream; that could never be. But it’s difficult choosing between “96%-fat-free,” “nonfat frozen” yogurt, “100% real” vanilla ice cream, “light” ice cream and “all-natural” frozen yogurt.

It was never like this when I was growing up. As a girl in New York, I ate Mello-Rolls, far richer and more costly (10 cents) than a garden-variety double scoop of ice cream on a cone (5 cents).

You had to go to a candy store or drugstore to fetch ice cream because home freezer storage was rare in those days. The ice man would climb five floors, one shoulder draped with a wet, dirty potato sack on which a huge block of ice balanced. Then he’d heave the block into our ice box, scraping the corners if it didn’t fit inside the space. And that was for refrigeration, not freezing.

A Mello-Roll was a three-inch-long ice cream drum about one inch in diameter, wrapped in peel-away paper with blue print on it that sometimes blotted onto the ice cream itself. The candy store operator would peel the paper off gingerly and drop the roll into the rectangular collar of a short-stemmed cone with a flat bottom.

The ice cream was sheer velveteen, a texture so silky the tongue actually slid across the ice cream with each lick. The richness of the cream was probably double that of today’s rich ice creams. Butterfat standards were unknown until federal regulations established strict standards in the 1950s. According to Ken Mercurio of Carnation Inc. in Los Angeles, standards for butterfat used in ice cream products today range from 10% to 18%.

Incidentally, today’s ice milk contains 4% butterfat and “light” ice creams (currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration to establish a standard) have 7% butterfat.

Naturally, my mother insisted that we choose extra-rich Mello-Rolls over run-of-the-mill double-dip ice creams, probably because they were more expensive, and, therefore, in her eyes, better . All that butterfat probably was dreadful for us, but who knew? . . . And who cared? She also insisted on ordering Mello-Roll in malts, making them even richer than a malt had a right to be. We’d watch Mello-Roll dive into the sea of milk and spin crazily as the metal blades of the malt machine whirred it into an overflowing, creamy, foamy mass, with a vanilla aroma that I can still smell.

It was well after World War II when Mello-Roll disappeared from the scene. Candy stores no longer carried it and the memory has faded. Not one ice cream on the market today has filled the gap for me. But I’ll keep searching.

The overwhelming choice of ice creams available these days has short-circuited the nerve endings of my desires.