Cardella: the great ice cream competition

It’s summer. It’s ice cream time. Is there a more popular dessert than ice cream? It’s the one candy I could never eliminate from my diet.

My love affair with ice cream began over 70 years ago. Back then, there was a popular dairy brand called SEALTEST. SEALTEST was one of the Phillies’ broadcast sponsors. This time SEALTEST has introduced a new variety of cottage cheese. For those unfamiliar with cottage cheese, consider ricotta. The poor man’s ricotta. The difference between cottage cheese and ricotta is that no one ever chooses to eat cottage cheese unless they are on a diet. You would never fill a cannoli shell with cottage cheese. Ricotta, the one you will find at CLAUDIO’S, is the gift of the Italian gods.

This new cottage cheese from SEALTEST has been sprinkled with bits of burnt bacon. Sealtest strived to make cottage cheese more than just a health food. To publicize the launch of its new product, SEALTEST held a contest — name the new cottage cheese.

At my request, Mom bought a container of no-name cottage cheese. It was horrible. If you’re one of those people who thinks bacon makes everything better, think again. I scribbled down the name I suggested – COTTAGE CHEESE WITH BACON CHIPZELS – and submitted my contest entry. Not a very creative name. In my memory, we threw away the rest of the container of cottage cheese and forgot the whole episode. But about a month later, a man came knocking at our door.

To the surprise of our family, the guy was from SEALTEST. There were a bunch of winners, said the SEALTEST man. I arrived at #16. Considering the lousy product – and even lousier name I had chosen, I wasn’t expecting a lot of price. I think my parents thought they were raising their own precocious publicity genius. CHEESE COTTAGE WITH BACON CHIPZELS. How smart! Now what have I won?

It turned out that I had choices. The SEALTEST man showed me a whole list of things. I remember a few choices. A two-wheeled bicycle (sounds redundant, but that’s what we called bicycles back then). A fancy fountain pen (valuable at a time when ballpoint pens were not in general use). I quickly bypassed both choices. I didn’t know how to drive a two-wheeler. My round body never seemed to belong on anything with less than three wheels. I was a born senior tricycle racer. As for the fountain pen, although I was a boring chubster, even I wasn’t that boring when I was 12. And then my eye caught sight of THE prize on the SEALTEST man’s list – a year’s supply of SEALTEST ice cream.

It was an easy choice. For a 12 year old, the year’s supply of the creamy stuff was mind boggling. I was guessed by other friends and family later. How not to choose the bike? Simple. The bike didn’t have chocolate chips in it.

SEALTEST provided me with a coupon book good for 26 half gallons of ice cream – the equivalent of a year’s supply. At that time, stores would not normally sell such a large container of ice cream. Lots of luncheonettes and other handmade ice creams. Sometimes you brought your own bowl to the store to use as a container.

I frequented a small luncheonette at 5th and Wolf. The owner was thrilled that I was one of the SEALTEST contest winners. He was ordering half gallons of pre-packaged ice cream just for me. Every time I went to the luncheonette with my coupon book, the owner would announce my entrance in grand style. I was treated like an ice cream tycoon.

I couldn’t wait to tell my grandmother about my good fortune. Grandma Florence lived on the corner of Darien and Wolf in South Philly, across from the Key Schoolyard. She liked ice cream even more than I did. Even before I became an ice cream tycoon, I used to go to Grandma’s every Sunday after church and stay for her delicious fried meatballs (no sauce, please ). After winning the ice, I took a container with me every Sunday.

The coupon book came with ice cream cones and a ladle. But all Grandma and I needed was two spoons. What an ice cream partnership we had. We polished half a gallon of ice cream between us on each visit. I think I have become his favorite grandson. They didn’t have 32 flavors of SEALTEST ice cream at the time, but we tried every flavor they offered. We both smile. Grandma and me. Our spoons dig straight from the container. Nirvana.

Alas! There came a day when my coupon book was empty. Together Grandma and I had completed a year’s supply of ice cream in just three months. Since then, I have been a fan of ice cream. But now I have to pay for myself.

Grandma left. Just like this little luncheonette. And so, even, is SEALTEST. Half a gallon of ice cream doesn’t even contain half a gallon of ice cream anymore. And as far as I know, this horrible cottage cheese with bacon bits disappeared from the shelves shortly after its introduction. This 12-year-old has his memories of his grandmother, two spoons and a container of ice cream that empties quickly.

Grandma liked her ice cream.

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