Cardella: The Great Ice Cream Contest

It’s summer. Time for ice cream. Is there any dessert more popular than ice cream? It’s the one treat I could never eliminate from my diet.

My love affair with ice cream started over 70 years ago. Back in the day, there was a popular dairy brand named SEALTEST. SEALTEST was one of the sponsors of the Phillies broadcasts. This one particular time, SEALTEST introduced a new variety of cottage cheese. For those folks unfamiliar with cottage cheese, think of ricotta. The poor man’s ricotta. The difference between cottage cheese and ricotta is no one ever chooses to eat cottage cheese unless they’re on a diet. You would never fill a cannoli shell with cottage cheese. Ricotta — the kind you can get at CLAUDIO’S – is Italy’s gift from the gods.

This new cottage cheese from SEALTEST was speckled with pieces of burnt bacon. Sealtest was trying really hard to make cottage cheese more than just diet food. To publicize the introduction of its new product, SEALTEST ran a contest — name the new cottage cheese.

At my pleading, mom purchased a container of the nameless cottage cheese. It was awful. If you are one of those who think bacon makes everything taste better, think again. I scribbled down my suggested name — COTTAGE CHEESE WITH BACON CHIPZELS – and submitted my contest entry. Not a very creative name. In my memory, we dumped the rest of the cottage cheese container and proceeded to forget about the entire episode. But a month or so later, a man showed up ringing our doorbell.

To our family’s surprise, the guy was from SEALTEST. There were a bunch of winners, the SEALTEST man said. I came in at No. 16. Considering the lousy product — and the even lousier name I’d chosen, I didn’t expect much of a prize. I think my folks thought they were raising their own precocious advertising genius. COTTAGE CHEESE WITH BACON CHIPZELS. How clever! Now what in the world did I win?

It turned out I had choices. The SEALTEST man showed me a whole list of stuff. I remember a couple of the choices. A two-wheeler bicycle (sounds redundant, but that’s what we called bikes back then). A fancy fountain pen (valuable in an era when ball points were not in general use). I quickly bypassed both choices. I didn’t know how to ride a two-wheeler. My rotund body never seemed to belong on anything with less than three wheels. I was a natural born rider of the senior tricycle. As far as the fountain pen, though I was a boring chubster, even I was not that boring at the age of 12. And then my eye spied THE prize on the SEALTEST man’s list — a year’s supply of SEALTEST ice cream.

It was an easy choice. To a 12-year-old, a year’s supply of the creamy stuff was mind-boggling. I was second-guessed by other friends and family later on. How could you not choose the bicycle? Simple. The bicycle 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. In those days, stores did not normally carry that large of a container of ice cream. Many luncheonettes and the like hand scooped ice cream. Sometimes, you carried your own bowl to the store to be used as a container.

I patronized a small luncheonette at 5th and Wolf. The owner got a huge kick out of my being one of the winners of the SEALTEST contest. He’d order half-gallons of pre-packed ice cream just for me. Each time I trundled 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. Grandmom Florence lived on the corner of Darien and Wolf in South Philly, across from the Key Schoolyard. She loved ice cream even more than I did. Even before becoming an ice cream mogul, I used to go to Grandmom’s every Sunday after church and stay for her delicious fried meatballs (without gravy, please). After winning the ice cream, I’d take a container with me each Sunday.

The coupon book came with ice cream cones and a dipper. But all grandmom and I needed were two spoons. What an ice cream partnership we had. We polished off a half-gallon of ice cream between us every time I visited. I think I became her favorite grandson. They didn’t have 32 flavors of SEALTEST ice cream back then, but we tried every flavor they did carry. Both of us smiling. Grandmom and me. Our spoons digging away straight from the container. Nirvana.

Alas! There came a day when my coupon book was empty. Together, grandmom and I had finished off a year’s supply of ice cream in just three months. I’ve been a fan of ice cream ever since. But now I must pay for my own.

Grandmom is gone. So is that small luncheonette. And so, even, is SEALTEST. Half-gallons of ice cream don’t even contain a half-gallon of ice cream anymore. And as far as I know, that awful cottage cheese with bacon bits disappeared off the shelves not long after it was first introduced. That 12-year-old kid has his memories of his grandmother, two spoons and a quickly-emptying container of ice cream.

Grandmom sure liked her ice cream.