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Ever heard of “Ded Moroz?” It’s Russian for “Grandfather Frost” — their Santa Claus. Morozhenoe is Russian ice cream, and even in Soviet days, it was available at ice cream stands all over Moscow, even in cold weather. Russians have some things in common with Americans–wide open spaces, manifest destiny, a less than delicate attitude towards life, love of country, a well-known space program. And ice cream; they make astonishingly good ice cream.
In 1986 you could go into a cafeteria–Stolovaya–and get a pretty good basic lunch. Chicken soup, bread, a vegetable, a glass of tea for about 35 cents. This is part of what makes writing about the Iron Curtain days tricky for pre-Trump conservatives: the Soviets weren’t lying about everything, just a lot of things. The subway was immaculate and cost seven cents. Ice cream was available everywhere, as evidently it was part of a confidence-building Five Year Plan at some point.
The most distinctive thing is, it was high fat ice cream. As in, OMG, this is the richest, sweetest ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Good thing that unlike so many other Ricochet members, I have no defense secrets to reveal. This Morozhenoe is more tempting than Mata Hari.
Not that ice cream and the left wing have no mutual associations in the USA. The slightly socialistic New Deal road development projects planned and built by New York’s midcentury superboss, Robert Moses, created a new beachfront community called Jones Beach, known now to generations of New Yorkers. There were no trains to Jones Beach, and that’s the way Moses–Robert Moses, that is–wanted it. You had to drive to get there, which in Thirties terms meant you had to be middle class, and–let’s be honest–you all but had to be white at that time. There weren’t too many Black families buying Ford Model A’s to get to Jones Beach. That was what amounted to progressive leftism in the NYC thirties.
Jones Beach attracted big crowds almost immediately, and a treat created for it was called Mello-roll. Before McDonald’s, this was a semi-automated fast food. It was ice cream in a Pillsbury Doughboy-style round cardboard container, perforated every three inches. A specially shaped Mello-roll cone accepted the sideways cylinder of ice cream, which was unwrapped from its backing when it was dropped in the cone. Kinda futuristic by Thirties standards.
After the war, an entrepreneur named Tom Carvel pioneered the use of soft ice cream dispensers. Carvel was a northeastern “thing” and he had a walk-up location a few blocks from where I grew up. When I say, “walk up,” I mean it; no inside, no chairs, no nothin’. But the ice cream was pretty good, fondly remembered by NYC expatriates to this day.
Finally, in the late Seventies, a decadent decade got the decadently rich ice cream America deserved. Haagen-Dazs was made in the Bronx (like me!) but its name and mildly pretentious packaging convinced yuppies that they were eating something better than American ice cream.
As if there could be such a thing.