A few weekends ago, I was down in Philadelphia for the first time, and had Bassett's famous ice cream at Reading Terminal Market. Not usually a fan of eggless ice cream as I think it tastes like frozen whipped cream, I was surprised by the lack of whipped cream taste in the mint chocolate chip I had ordered. When I got back to Boston, I wrote to Bassett's to confirm that this really was "Philadelphia Style" as I knew it and got this reply:
Thank you for your inquiry. Actually, what makes the vanilla "Philadelphia-style" is the vanilla bean specks in the ice cream, so both our vanilla and French vanilla (made with egg yolks) are "Philadelphia-style" ice creams. If you are unsure about a flavor, you can check out our ingredients on the Flavors page of our web site--Bassetts Ice Cream - Since 1861.Hm. This is not what I thought. In fact, I had never heard of anything of the sort. I checked out the ingredient list [Cream, Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Chocolate Chips (Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin,Vanilla), Nonfat Milk, Green Coloring (F. D. & C. Yellow No. 5, F. D. & C. Green No. 3), Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan, Soy Lecithin, Oil of Peppermint] there were no eggs to speak of, but I still felt shakey on the definition of "Philadelphia Style" I had always known.
I decided to write to Turkey Hill, makers of my favorite brand of commercially made ice cream, who happen to be located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (they should know something about Philadelphia AND ice cream, right?) Unbeknownst to me, Turkey Hill has their own "Philadelphia Style" ice cream so their answer wasn't too helpful either:
This is our All Natural line of ice cream. This ice cream is made with cream, milk, sugar and all natural flavors. Philadelphia Style is just the name that was chosen for this line.
Ok, ok, but Turkey Hill does have a blog with an ice cream expert named Ernie, so I decided to check there. Here's a snippet of the answer on the blog:
Traditionally, Philadelphia style ice creams are milk and cream-based mixtures which contain no eggs. This means the ice cream is less rich, but it has a more intense flavor. The style is also known for using pure, natural ingredients and some Philadelphia Style ice cream mixtures are also cooked before they are frozen. Of course, all of this is in contrast to “French Style” ice cream which uses eggs and is sometimes also referred to as a custard.
Well, at least Ernie is on my side! Thanks, Ernie!
I began to think about where I got this initial impression, and it turns out that our favorite ice cream author Bruce Weinstein distinguishes eggless ice cream as "Philadelphia Style". On the first page of his Introduction in The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, Weinstein writes "There are two basic styles of ice cream in this book: custard style ice cream (some times called "frozen custard," "French ice cream," or "gelato"), which is made with eggs; and Philadelphia-style ice cream, which is made without eggs." Well there it is folks. Weinstein's book being a favorite, and somewhat of a bible, and in fact only the second ice cream book purchase, I learned early on this definition of "Philadelphia Style."
However, only one of my ten other ice cream books actually talked of "Philadelphia Style." In Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop, Gail Damerow (another one of my ice cream author heros) writes in her glossary:
Philadelphia ice cream--ice cream containing only cream, sugar and flavoring; also, vanilla ice cream flavored with visible vanilla seeds or crushed vanilla pods.
Whew. So I am still not quite sure of the exact definition. Damerow seems to kind of combine both Weinstein and Turkey Hill's definition with that of Bassett's. This makes me a little reassured but also a little weary, since Bassett's so directly told me their "Philadelphia Style" has egg yolks and I am under the impression that Bassett's is the defining ice cream of Philadelphia.
I'm interested in your opinion. What defines "Philadelphia Style" to you? Would especially love to hear from you Philadelphian's!
On another note, as I was looking for some specific ice cream images, I came across this beautiful water color on PaperandThreads Blog that I just had to share. Lovely work! There is just something so wonderful in its simplicity, as in much of this artist's work. I hope he/she doesn't mind my sharing!