Rumors have been floating around recently that Ben & Jerry's, makers of wonderful ice cream, might revert to private ownership. I'm all for it; I'd rather the company not be beholden to the shareholders' concern for profit. Full steam behind, folks.
Hearing the news brought back several good Ben & Jerry's memories. There was the time that Spencer, Beth, and I took a day trip from Albany NY to their factory in Waterbury, Vermont. The trip was a long circle, as we went over to New Hampshire to stop at a package store on the way back. I remember riding along with beer and cheese at my feet, wondering what the police would say if they stopped us. And I remember the brilliance of the stars, which we watched from the side of the road in Vermont.
The factory itself was interesting. We didn't get to see too much, as it wasn't very big at the time. We heard the story of the woman who named the flavor "Chunky Monkey", only to discover that her prize (a lifetime supply of that flavor) didn't appeal to her; she had no taste for bananas.
The in-factory store was the highlight of the trip for me. They had a flavor I'd never tried, "That's Life! Apple Pie". It's vanilla with pieces of real apple pie stirred in. I tried it and loved it. It's still my favorite flavor of their ice cream. If only it were easier to get.
I shouldn't be complaining about access to Ben & Jerry's, though. For a decade I lived in Albany, New York, which at the time was the Ben & Jerry's retail capitol. There were more Ben & Jerry's shops in that city than in any other city in the world. That fact came to our advantage one day.
Out of the blue, my friend Phyllis called. She said that it was her birthday, and she had a Ben & Jerry's birthday club card that entitled her to a free ice cream cone. She proposed a brilliant idea: trying to hit as many local Ben & Jerry's shops as possible in one day, getting a free ice cream cone at each. Was I interested?
But of course!
We got together and planned our strategy. There were five Ben & Jerry's shops in Albany, one in Schenectady, and one in Saratoga Springs. We nixed the latter two, leaving us with five: two in malls, one near one of the malls, one on New Scotland, and the downtown store on Lark Street. The Lark Street store was often open until 11 PM, so we decided to save that for last. We plotted a route and off we went.
Wow: five cones, split between two people. Each was a different flavor; I can't even remember now what they were (Rainforest Crunch, Pistachio...?). We started at a mall, and managed to hit all the stores with some time to spare. The spree ended on Lark Street, hanging out in the funky shop, watching the bohemians walk by. By that time we were tired from eating ice cream all afternoon and evening. But it was a whole lot of fun, running from one store to the next. The trick is to give yourself plenty of time, and not to overdo it.
That's a piece of advice I wish I'd heeded when it came to the Vermonster. This is something I'd only seen in Ben & Jerry's shops: twenty (yes, 20) scoops of ice cream, four bananas, brownies, toppings, the whole works. It requires at least four people to eat one, and that's the lower limit. Back in the '80s, some friends and I tried to conquer one.
What a unique ice cream experience. Each of us chose a set of flavors, then sat down while they made it. After a little while they brought it to us in a very large silver mixing bowl (this was before they had the plastic tubs). We dug in. The whole experience was so exaggerated -- 20 scoops, a mixing bowl -- that rather than eating a dessert, it was more like mining a cold, edible mountain. Cries of "Hey, I struck a vein of macadamia nut!" were heard. It was melting even as we were eating, ending in a multiflavored melted mixture. We waddled out of there, stuffed but quite happy. It was worth every penny. If you're going to eat one, though, I'd recommend rounding up at least five people to make the attempt.
Now I live on the western coast of the U.S.A., where Ben & Jerry's shops are harder to find. I visit them when I can, and remember all the good times with friends.
(In case you're wondering, I wasn't paid to say any of this. It all really happened.)
2003-03-10. Ben & Jerry's is now owned by Unilever, a large conglomerate. So much for supporting independent business.