Month: April 2021

You’re drinking ice cream wrong

I’m a fairly simple boy from rural Michigan. As you’d expect from that declaration, I’m mediocre in most ways. But you may be stunned to learn of the horrible gap that has prevailed in my realm of experiences. A failing that existed until recently.

Michigan food specialties likely have been well-covered elsewhere. Hit up the internet with a search for Vernors or Royal Crown Cola, fried smelt and Gerber’s baby food. Of course, there’s the Ford Pinto and Chrysler K-Cars, but those are rarely considered edible.

One food item that I never thought was special to Michigan or the Midwest was Malted Milk.

Dairy of all kinds, including ice cream, is exceedingly popular in Michigan. Any ice cream outlet is going to offer patrons a “malt.” This ice cream beverage is ice cream, whole milk and malted milk blended up thick. You have to give a strong pull on the straw to get the elixir to play music on your taste buds. But you are truly rewarded when that band hits that first note of flavor.

Malt for this recipe can be in powdered or liquid form. You can order a simple, I’ve-given-up-on-living “shake,” but where I’m from, you order a “malt.”

Malt takes mediocre, low-quality ice-milk and kicks it up to being something you actually want to invite into your tasting room. Use it with good-quality ice cream and you’ve elevated the experience beyond measure. Any person who has yet to experience a vanilla malt has my sympathy – and my sympathy comes at high cost.

One year my family ventured to St. Paul, Minnesota where my dad’s sister lived. My uncle had just purchased a police scanner and he, my cousins and I were sitting on the living room floor, listening to the calls and pinning the locations on a map. We were focused on the action when my aunt came in with bowls of ice cream with powdered malt sprinkled on top.

At that point I had amassed 13 years of heartbeats on this orb and considered malt a given, like air, the blue sky or Doritos. But when I scooped into that Rocky Road with malt powder, my eyelids peeled back, the official mayhem blasting from the scanner speaker was no longer heard. Rather, my brain was overcome by signals of astounding flavor and palate joy.

It was unclear as to whether my family in Michigan was to blame for not knowing this serving method or my aunt Iris was simply a culinary genius yet to be appreciated on the world stage. Either way, I became a pest for the rest of the visit, suggesting that every meal should include some malted ice cream.

I’m a little older now and have lived in Virginia, Utah and North Carolina. It wasn’t until my move to North Carolina that it occurred to me that malt is not, indeed, universal!

I know, I know. You wouldn’t think so, but after spending several years in this verdant state, it’s true: malt is nearly unknown.

I started to be wary when I visited ice cream shops. I would instinctively order a “vanilla malt.” A couple of times the transaction was completed and I left the establishment thinking “Ah, they forgot the malt – this is ‘meh’.”

Other interactions with ice cream staff resulted in quizzical looks or the blatant: “What’s that?” query.

“What’s that?”


You’re an ice cream service professional and you don’t know what malt is?

How are you allowed behind that counter? Hand in your cow-image name tag at once until you are properly trained!

But no, it isn’t entirely their fault. You see, this region is unaware of malt. For hundreds of years they have consumed their ice cream bowls and beverages sans malt. And they know no better!

I did some research and learned that North Carolina has microwave ovens, the internet, cellular telephones and even sliced bread. But no malt!

There likely will be a couple of members of my audience who might think themselves wise to suggest that I use Whoppers candy as a substitute.

Ummm, I’ll be nice and presume you tripped on a crack in the sidewalk while trying to think. That or an infarct are the only explanations for such wayward imaginings.

I took my studies deeper. If I could not procure a professionally-prepared ice cream malt, then I would simply make it myself. As a child we did this all the time. I had been trained. I had the skills. I knew the tricks, the foibles. I’d simply buy the malt and fashion up the delight on demand.

Not a single store had malt on offer.

Not. A. One.

I went to the internet and my friends who sell goods from their rainforest website. Because there is no time and space warp, I was able to find Carnation Malt without much trouble. But because it is used in such quantities by those living in normal malt-loving states, the packages were enormous. Far too much in price, placing too large a demand on my meagre storage options, to be practical.

I was depressed. The more time went by without a malt, the more I craved it. Carnation tried to trick me numerous times as they sell their instant coffee creamer in a package that is nearly identical to that used for malt. The sleepy part of an eyeball would perceive one of those containers on a shelf and I’d knock over a hippie buying hemp powder to get to that shelf only to find a creamer – not a malt. Fortunately for me, a knocked-over hippy is generally a very forgiving sort.

Then one day I was shopping at a Publix. We have very few of them and as you may know, they are a Florida-based grocery store chain. Definitely nothing about them hints at Michigan or the Midwest or the North. I had all but given up my search for malt and when I saw part of the right-looking container, I was prepared to be duped by creamer. But this was the real deal – it was legit! Behind the pickles, and a little beside the fava beans, there was one lone container of malt.

The store’s public-address system switched from touting their sale on melons (which actually was quite enticing) to a choir of angels singing praises to grass-fed dairy cows the land over.

For some months now I’ll have my personal supply of malt. I’ll survive. Purpose and hope have returned to my outlook. But I am saddened for the rest. I feel hopeless for the professional ice cream operations that remain ignorant of the proper way to prepare an ice cream beverage. Still more traumatized by the masses of humanity who are deprived of this flavor treat.

I never would have thought such an important staple of life would be a rarity. But isn’t that how it so often is? We make assumptions. We don’t know what we had until it’s gone and other such clichés.

As for now, I’m going to blend some Ben & Jerry’s vanilla, a couple of tablespoons of malt and some milk.

That is until when winter returns and I’ll be popping some Vernors into the microwave.

You know about that, right…?