Paradice

Arctic Ice Cream Novelties has been defining Seattle summers for more than 50 years.

IT ISN'T SUMMER, they say, unless your tongue's purple or the mugs of the neighbor kids are orange. Unless an electronic glockenspiel is tinkle-blaring a Scott Joplin tune from a white jeep, echoing over and over through the residential streets. And unless the Good Humor is turning ill as a well-known, work-at-home novelist snaps and runs amuck through her neighborhood, menacing an ice cream truck driver with a cheese slicer. We speak, of course, of "frozen novelties": popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, Drumsticks, Eskimo Pies, Fudgesicles, Creamsicles, Sidewalk Sundaes, Nutty Buddies, Rollo Cones, Ice Twirlies, and Sugar Pickles. And of their allegedly healthy alternatives: juice bars, Tofutti Cuties, yogurt-sticks, HummusNuggets, and sugar-free ice pops. Like other unlikely things in our peculiar culture, we've made popsicles iconic. Though trademarked by the Breyer Ice Cream Company, "popsicle" has become generic—like kleenex. As a euphemism for "penis," it is often used in names for metal and alternative rock bands like Donkey Popsicle, Puke Popsicle, Popsicle Love Sponge, and the Popsicles. It is metaphoric for hip or cold, as in Michael Franks' "Popsicle Toes," that ultra-cool tune about warm hearts and chilly digits. Frank Epperson, an 11-year-old California boy visiting New Jersey in 1905, mixed a drink with some soda water powder, but then forgot and left it overnight on the back porch with the spoon still in it. It froze into what he dubbed an "Epsicle," which eventually became the modern popsicle. Now the concept of flavored ice on a stick is in the very fabric of world culture (to remove popsicles from the fabric of your culture, use cold water and a toothbrush). Paletas are sold in scores of fruity flavors all over Latin America; they sell hugely in Alaska and China. In Connecticut, an upscale pet spa serves dog popsicles made from chicken bouillon on hot days to its guests. People make popsicles with habanero peppers in New Mexico; Japanese make squid pops and shrimpsicles; Koreans throw in whole azuki beans. Popsicles aren't just for kids. Research shows that nearly half of the popsicles produced in this country are eaten by adults. They're a binge item, we're told, an addictive substance. A 30-ish Seattleite who prefers to remain nameless says, "If I buy a bag of popsicles, they're gone overnight. And we don't have any kids." Her partner denies knowing anything about this, but telltale tongue stains have repeatedly exposed him. Tripping the light industrial, we visited Arctic Ice Cream Novelties in the Rainier Valley, a popsicle factory that's been supplying us with frozen goodies since 1947. Arctic is threatened these days by competition from well-heeled big guys like Safeway, Darigold, and Breyer. We meet Bill Dinsmore, 68, the company's gruff chief operating officer and 50-year veteran of the frozen novelty biz. Dinsmore suffers no fools—keeping popsicles in our collective faces is serious business, and it's his task to keep track of tankers of syrup and pure cream, cases of flavorings and colorings, pallets of popsicle sticks, plastic tubs, wrappers, and labels. He determines daily production runs based on raw inventory data provided by his customers, then arranges the shipping with three trucking lines. On his watch, the little factory has doubled its volume. Next we are met by sales manager Jerry Gregory, who leads us into the busy little plant, which is pumping out its chilly product in peak season. POPSICLES ARE as seasonal as Yakima tomatoes. "A supermarket might go through a case of popsicles in three months in winter, but up to 30 to 40 a month in summer," Gregory says. We stand next to a fantastical machine where a moving line of molds for double-sticked "twin pops" moves steadily by in multiflavored rows, through a freezing bath of brine. In a few short feet, the molds are filled, be-sticked, frozen, and wrapped by this relentless clanking contraption; then they're counted and bagged by women in white smocks, hair nets, and dairy boots. This assortment of flavors—cherry, orange, grape, lemon, lime (known to kids as red, orange, purple, yellow, green)—sells in plastic bags in grocery stores. Twin pops are the most popular form of popsicle; you can break them in half to share or give single sticks to little kids. Elsewhere, we see a giant machine extruding two-gallon dumps of vanilla ice cream into fast-moving plastic tubs. Yet another excretes vanilla onto chocolate wafers while workers slap on a top wafer to make the ever-popular ice cream sandwich. Then they're sent to the hardening room where they're subjected to minus 30 F temperatures, making them cold enough to be shipped without melting. Ice cream and popsicles can be stored forever at temperatures less than minus 10, though they're shipped out of here fast to places as diverse as Fairbanks, Mexico City, Vladivostok, Los Angeles, and Guam. Next we enter a room where we are reminded of the dangers of over-indulging—even when the indulgence is a popsicle. A machine there is turning out elegant "Super Treats." These are large, conical, one-stick pineapple-and-cherry popsicles in vivid red and yellow, swirled like a freestanding tequila sunrise. Jerry Gregory pulls one out of its little cup as it marches by on its way to the wrapper. I taste, and it proves magnificent. After a bite or two, I toss it into a plastic barrel, like a wine taster spitting claret into a silver bucket. Five-year Arctic veteran Cherie Wood, who's bagging twin-pops, looks up at us and wistfully repeats a common sentiment around here: "I used to love popsicles."*

 
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