8 Summertime Treats We Should Bring Back

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Certain snacks are synonymous with summer. A waffle cone piled high with creamy ice cream. A sizzling hot dog fresh off the grill. A tall, cool glass of water buffalo milk. OK, maybe that last one hasn't gotten much play in our lifetimes—but in the centuries before refrigeration came about, anyone baking in the summer sun had to get creative. While many historic summertime treats have stuck around in one form or another, others, like the ones we've gathered here, have mostly melted away like a dropped Popsicle on a sidewalk in August.

1. Flavored Snow and Ice

The snow cones of eras past were a lot more literal than the neon kind we slurp at the carnival these days. In ancient Rome, slaves scoured nearby mountains for blocks of ice which were then crushed and topped with spiced syrups and fruit for their masters. Mesopotamian nobles, too, had icehouses built along the banks of the Euphrates River to beat the heat. Snow was even sold in the streets of ancient Athens, likely to cool wine. Flavored ices have remained popular around the world (Thomas Jefferson was known to serve freezes at Monticello), even as they've largely moved away from the straight-up snow-based variety. So popular, in fact, that in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson knew he was onto something when he accidentally left a glass of water, powdered soda mix, and a wooden stirring stick on his porch overnight. The concoction froze solid and the Popsicle was born.

2. Flowerpot Sundaes

Lady Bird Johnson, a dedicated environmentalist, had White House chef Henry Haller serve flowerpot sundaes at her daughters' engagement parties in the 1960s. The seasonal sweet consisted of layers of ice cream, meringue, and sponge cake served in clay flowerpots and topped with fresh blossoms—the perfect combination of the First Lady's wildflower beautification measures and dessert duties. With her love of gardening, we're a little surprised Michelle Obama didn't bring this tradition back to Pennsylvania Avenue during her time as First Lady, though an entire flowerpot full of sugar probably wouldn't pass her healthy eating initiatives.

3. Kool-Aid

vintage Kool-Aid ad from 1950
Wandering Magpie, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The sugary summer drink dates back far further than the plastic jugs parents of the '80s and '90s had waiting after their kids' soccer games. A Nebraska businessman and amateur chemist added the powdered product to his existing lineup of goods like Nix-O-Tine (to help with tobacco dependency) and Motor-Vigor (a gasoline additive) in the late 1920s. Originally called "Fruit Smack," it came in six flavors (raspberry, grape, lemon, orange, cherry, and root beer) and debuted right around the time Coca-Cola was catching on nationally. Business was good but things really took off when the Great Depression hit and consumers realized they could stretch one little packet into a pitcher to cool down the whole family. Kool-Aid's still around, despite its 1970s association with the Jonestown mass suicide (though the evidence indicates they actually mostly drank a Kool-Aid competitor, Flavor-Aid) and today's health-conscious parents, but that smiling pitcher with limbs doesn't seem to hold the same wall-breaking power he once did.

4. Iced Water Buffalo Milk

There's some debate as to where ice cream officially originated, with various people (with varying amounts of accuracy and evidence) ascribing it to Marco Polo or Catherine de Medici, and even some attributions to King Solomon and Alexander the Great. China's Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) has a pretty solid claim on the feat, though. Emperors from that time were known to have enjoyed a frozen "milk-like" treat made from buffalo, goat, or cow's milk heated with flour and spiced with camphor. Refreshing!

5. Ice Cream Carts

An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
An ice cream vendor in New York hands a young girl an ice cream, circa 1920.
Elizabeth R. Hibbs/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before the tinny melody of "Pop Goes The Weasel" brought swarms of sweaty kids to the streets for a Chipwich, mobile ice cream vendors used more primitive—and less sanitary—means. In the late 19th century, vendors sold dishes of ice cream from carts cooled with ice blocks, which meant customers would lick their dish clean and then return it to the seller to use for his next customer. Not exactly a model of hygiene.

Before widespread milk pasteurization, ice cream also came topped with the threat of bacteria that could cause scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and other extreme ailments. The frozen treat became safer to order after studies of typhoid in New York implicated raw milk, causing most cities to require pasteurization, and inventions like the ice cream cone made that whole sharing dishes issue disappear. Technological advances around the same time made refrigeration easier and scoopers traded in their carts for cars. Ice cream trucks, which first appeared in the 1920s, have seen something of a resurgence in recent years as other food trucks have flourished and anything vintage has become hipster cool, but the once-ubiquitous carts tend to remain relegated to zoos, amusement parks, and other touristy areas.

6. Easy Cheese

Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow famously said she'd prefer crack to cheese from a can, but for the rest of us, spray cheese remains the stuff of nostalgic summer roadtrip memories. Easy Cheese first propelled its way into America's hearts—and arteries—in 1966, when it was known as Snack Mate. Like TV dinners and Campbell's soup casseroles, the nitrogen-pressurized product was right in line with the era's obsession with speed and efficiency. The name change came about in 1984 when Kraft took over and embraced its portability and ease over the quality it had been peddling in its early years. If you can get past the processed foods stigma and the wrath of judgy celebrities, you can still find the cheesy can on grocery store shelves and, of course, on YouTube.

7. Shoulder Clod

Two butchers, circa 1965.
Keystone/Getty Images

Once a standard cut for summer BBQs, shoulder clod rarely makes modern appearances in America's grilling pits anymore. Southern meat markets used to buy entire forequarters of beef, divide out the roasts, and smoke whatever was left over, but in the 1960s, wholesalers started shipping individual, vacuum-sealed cuts, making the fattier brisket the barbecue favorite. The unfortunately named "clod," a leaner piece of meat with beefier flavor that comes from the cow's shoulder, was all but forgotten. But, if you can find a chunk of clod at a local butcher shop, know that it will cook faster because of its leanness—a bonus if you don't have all day to spend minding the grill. And they tend to be larger, which is also a bonus.

8. Fromage (Not the Cheese Kind)

In the late 1600s, right around the time the Italians were experimenting with gelato, the French were mixing up a fluffier frozen treat they called fromage, even though it had nothing to do with cheese. Various recipes called for fruit-flavored ice, but some included cream and sugar as well—a combination that became a hit as the new century began. Can you imagine if your evening meal could be followed by a fromage plate and then a bowl of fromage? Heaven.

This story was updated in 2019.

6 Tasty Facts About Scrapple

Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, scrapple is a way of life—especially if you grew up in Pennsylvania or another Mid-Atlantic state like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia. And this (typically) pork-filled pudding isn’t going anywhere. While its popularity in America dates back more than 150 years, the dish itself is believed to have originated in pre-Roman times. In celebration of National Scrapple Day, here’s everything you ever—or never—wanted to know about the dish.

1. Scrapple is typically made of pig parts. Lots and lots of pig parts.

Though every scrapple manufacturer has its own particular recipe, it all boils down to the same basic process—literally: boiling up a bunch of pig scraps (yes, the parts you don’t want to know are in there) to create a stock which is then mixed with cornmeal, flour, and a handful of spices to create a slurry. Once the consistency is right, chopped pig parts are added in and the mixture is turned into a loaf and baked.

As the dish has gained popularity, chefs have put their own unique spins on it, adding in different meats and spices to play with the flavor. New York City’s Ivan Ramen even cooked it up waffle-style.

2. People were eating scrapple long before it made its way to America.

People often think that the word scrapple derives from scraps, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s actually an Americanized derivation of panhaskröppel, a German word meaning "slice of rabbit." Much like its modern-day counterpart, skröppel—which dates back to pre-Roman times—was a dish that was designed to make use of every part of its protein (in this case, a rabbit). It was brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia area.

In 1863, the first mass-produced version of scrapple arrived via Habbersett, which is still making the product today. They haven’t tweaked the recipe much in the past 150-plus years, though they do offer a beef version as well.

3. If your scrapple is gray, you're a-ok.

A dull gray isn’t normally the most appetizing color you’d want in a meat product, but that’s the color a proper piece of scrapple should be. (It is typically pork bits, after all.)

4. Scrapple can be topped with all kinds of goodies.

Though there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy a delicious piece of scrapple at any time of day, it’s considered a breakfast meat. As such, it’s often served with (or over) eggs but can be topped with all sorts of condiments; while some people stick with ketchup or jelly, others go wild with applesauce, mustard, maple syrup, and honey to make the most of the sweet-and-salty flavor combo. There’s also nothing wrong with being a scrapple purist and eating it as is.

5. Dogfish Head made a scrapple beer.

The master brewers at Delaware’s Dogfish Head have never been afraid to get experimental with their flavors. In 2014, they created a Beer for Breakfast Stout that was brewed with Rapa pork scrapple. A representative for the scrapple brand called the collaboration a "unique proposition." Indeed.

6. Delaware holds an annual scrapple festival each October.

Speaking of Delaware: It’s also home to the country’s oldest—and largest—annual scrapple festival. Originating in 1992, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware is a yearly celebration of all things pig parts, which includes events like a ladies skillet toss and a scrapple chunkin’ contest. More than 25,000 attendees make the trek annually.

What's the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images
Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

This Thanksgiving, families across the country will enjoy a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes ... or are they yams? Discussions on the proper name for the orange starchy stuff on your table can get more heated than arguments about topping them with marshmallows. But there's an easy way to tell the difference between sweet potatoes and yams: If you picked up the tuber from a typical American grocery store, it's probably a sweet potato.

So what's a sweet potato?

Sweet potato and yam aren't just different names for the same thing: The two produce items belong to their own separate botanical categories. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. Regular potatoes like russets, meanwhile, are considered part of the nightshade family, which means that sweet potatoes aren't actually potatoes at all.

Almost all of the foods most Americans think of as yams are really sweet potatoes. The root vegetable typically has brown or reddish skin with a starchy inside that's orange (though it can also be white or purple). It's sold in most supermarkets in the country and used to make sweet potato fries, sweet potato pie, and the sweet potato casserole you have at Thanksgiving.

Then what's a yam?

Yams.
Yams.
bonchan/iStock via Getty Images

Yams are a different beast altogether. They are more closely related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments. The skin is more rough and bark-like than what you'd see on a sweet potato, and the inside is usually white or yellowish—not orange.

They're a common ingredient in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Because the inside of a yam is less moist than the inside of a sweet potato, they require more fat to make them soft and creamy. They're also less sweet than their orange-hued counterparts. In many regions in the U.S., yams aren't sold outside of international grocery stores.

Where did the mix-up come from?

Also sweet potatoes.
Also sweet potatoes.
Kateryna Bibro/iStock via Getty Images

So if yams and sweet potatoes are two totally different vegetables that don't look or taste that similar, why are their names used interchangeably in the U.S.? You can blame the food industry. For years, "firm" sweet potatoes, which have brown skin and whitish flesh, were the only sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. In the early 20th century, "soft" sweet potatoes, which have reddish skin and deep-orange flesh, entered the scene. Farmers needed a way to distinguish the two varieties, so soft sweet potatoes became yams.

Nearly a century later, the misnomer shows no signs of disappearing. Many American supermarkets still call their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes yams and their white-fleshed ones sweet potatoes, even though both items are sweet potatoes. But this isn't a strict rule, and stores often swap the names and make things even more confusing for shoppers. So the next time you're shopping for a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes, learn to identify them by sight rather than the name on the label.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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