We are opening the year with a collection we’ve been working on for several months. We’re calling it American Licks: Ice Cream as a Living Artifact. And we are saying that certain flavors of ice cream from the 19th and 20th centuries are what we call “living artifacts.” That is, their popularity is in decline, but we are still holding on to them.
What’s more, I have never made these flavors. Never. Not in their true form. And I’m not alone. America’s newest ice cream makers have mostly left them behind as well.
I’ve been reflecting lately. It seems to me that I have forgotten something important during these last 20 years tweaking my ice cream flavors, like Thai Chili, Sweet Basil and Honeyed Pine Nut, Berries and Burgundy, and Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts. I have forgotten to pay homage. I realized: How can we move forward without a deep understanding of where we’ve been?
And that’s what we’re getting up to. American Licks drops today in our 21 full scoop shops across the country. We’re making ice creams as good as you remember them—and better than they ever were.
We will be in character for a couple of months. We have turned each of our shops into a small museum where you can view and eat these ice creams as living artifacts. You can sample them, eat them from cones, and learn a little about each flavor through our scoop shop “tour guides.” I’ve even recorded an audio tour for you to enjoy (or poke fun at; it is pretty funny). And of course, make a stop in our gift shop to collect a souvenir (they are very cool) or fill out a postcard (we’ll send it for you just like the folks at Wil Wright’s Ice Cream did in LA 60 years ago!).
The basis for this collection, and the other side of the concept of the living artifact, is that we believe truth is more than simply fact. Time and nostalgia have a way of rosing actual events, and even flavors. While we could easily dig up recipes (artifacts) from the 1920s, even find the same ingredients, we didn’t feel the original flavors created exactly as they were could compare to our living memories.
So, we incorporated memory—how these flavors made us feel—into the equation when bringing them back to life. The end result are flavors as good as you remember them, but so much better. Take our Green Mint Chip. It is so good, you will swear it is exactly what you had as a kid. The thing is, it’s not. It’s much denser, and made with high-quality peppermint and chocolate, so the flavors are punchier with a longer, cleaner finish. Also, it’s colored with spirulina! And that green leaf gives such a lovely hue. It’s the perfect shade, and completely natural.
The museum angle allows us to show these flavors without nostalgia or emotion, which was important because you’ll find all of that emotion in the actual ice creams as you taste them—as they send you on a trip through spacetime, back to the last time you ate Pralines & Cream and loved it.
By removing all emotion from the flavors I could see them with fresh eyes. It changed the way I thought about them. People truly connect with (or are repelled by) flavors of ice cream. I have found that an ice cream flavor can almost be a part of a person’s identity. I always hated Green Mint Chip, and I made sure everyone knew it. I was a strawberry ice cream girl at my core. It was reflective of who I was as a person, somehow. I find that people still connect with our ice creams in this way. So, in stripping these American Licks flavors from context I was able to see mint in a new way, and now I am in love with it. I love how creative work can deeply change emotions.
Our goal as a creative company is not just to create the next big flavor. We are here to make a more complex break with the past. To make ice creams that no one else can. Like Buddy Holly broke away from country and gospel. Even we don’t know if it’s possible. And that’s why it’s so endlessly fun. How and why to make ice cream in the 21st century, that’s what we are exploring, always.