There’s nothing more American than soft-serve ice cream. It provides the dairy and sweetness we crave in an attractive shape atop a sugary cone that encourages mobility. And we dispense the tasty snack via a machine that smashes it with compressed air. Why? Because regular ice cream is just not good enough for us.
Tomorrow, we celebrate National Soft-Serve Ice Cream Day, that childhood bribe all of us have dropped on at least one occasion. Every town of any size, and a lot of towns lacking much size at all, claims a soft-serve stop or two, and you know the stuff popular because you can find it at your better gas stations, too. Many people have tried to take credit for inventing soft-serve. But the all-seeing culinary oracle that is The Chicago Food Encyclopedia gives precedence to a local institution:
Soft-serve ice cream was invented by a father-and-son team living in Green River and first sold in Kankakee in 1938, which led to the opening of the first Dairy Queen store in Joliet in 1940. The American Dairy Queen Corporation is now a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., and DQ franchises are found worldwide.
Soft-serve even influenced history. Future British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, in her early career as a food chemist, took part in the industrial effort to bring soft-serve technology to the UK, where the treat became famous under the Mr. Whippy brand. Just think if she had ridden her success to the top of the food chemistry game instead of going into politics.
Sure, the Internet may frighten you with news that soft-serve, particularly fast food soft-serve, is a flash frozen chemical stew that contains red seaweed extract. But air-pulverized ice cream remains the most popular ice cream for a reason. Hold it with both hands.