IDAHO HISTORY: Ice cream and strawberries: An unbeatable summer pairing

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANMarch 16, 2014 

Ice cream has been a favorite warm-weather dessert in Idaho for a century and a half, and ice cream parlors and ice cream socials were mentioned regularly in the Idaho Statesman.

In May 1865, this item appeared: "ICE CREAM - An elegant little ice cream salon has been fitted up at the Idaho Hotel, and is under the direct supervision of the hostess, Mrs. Griffin. Those who are fond of the above delicacy will do well to drop in there; they will find it a nice place to spend an hour."

In July 1868, an ice cream parlor opened on the present site of the Boise State University: "Pleasant resort … We, with others, took a ride to the Island last evening in one of Lute Lindsay's easy spring wagons, and to our surprise halted at a neat arbor, suitably arranged, and supplied with bounteous and excellent ice cream and currants served by Mrs. Eastman, a lady who has no superior in pleasing those favoring the Island and her romantic arbor with their presence. It is indeed a pleasant resort to wile a few hours these warm days. Call on Mr. Lindsay and take a trip to the Island."

The road to Silver City crossed north and south channels of Boise River and over the island by way of two bridges but during spring flood season could be under water. The "arbor" where Mrs. Eastman sold her ice cream would have been fashioned out of branches of the cottonwood and willow trees that were native to the area.

Ice cream and strawberry festivals were offered regularly by the women of the city's churches. In July 1869, it was the women of St. Michael's Episcopal who sponsored one, and in June 1870, the ladies of the Good Templars lodge offered one at their hall on Main Street.

"Ho! Thirsty Souls who pant for cooling streams, go to Sheffer's and be comforted with ice cream," read a Statesman item that appeared on May 27, 1871. John Sheffer was a 60-year-old German confectioner who ran an ice cream parlor on Main Street. The paper gave him another plug on July 20 that year: "On these hot days, there is nothing so thoroughly comforting as to surround a mug of Father Sheffer's ice cream. It fills the soul with blissful refrigeration." John Sheffer supplied the frozen treat when the ladies of the Methodist church hosted a strawberry festival in June 1874. The Statesman called it "a decided success. The berries were fresh, ripe, and luscious; the ice cream made by Mr. Sheffer, excellent, and the dishes were dealt out by no stinting hand at twenty-five cents each." Editor Milton Kelly then added this as a humorous wrap-up of the story: "We were there in all our glory, and the light of our shining countenance permeated every part of the room, and shed a mellow luster o'er the scene. The receipts for the evening were over eighty dollars."

In June 1875, the paper observed, "Strawberries are plentiful at 25 cents a quart. The season for strawberry festivals is at hand." And so it went, year after year, with the Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians taking their turns.

Next week we'll share more on ice cream and the essential ingredients for making it: milk and cream, sugar and ice, and a strong arm.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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