Along with mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, and cookies and cream (and perpetual stalwarts chocolate and vanilla), Rocky Road is one of America’s favorite ice cream flavors. The fun, decadent dessert combines chocolate ice cream with marshmallows and nuts (usually almonds) to create a delightful, frozen masterpiece. Although it’s clear that Rocky Road is a popular flavor, exactly who invented it depends on who you ask.
In 1906, William Dreyer came to the U.S. from Germany. After a time in New York, he moved to California to learn the art of making ice cream, and in 1921, he opened an ice cream shop in Visalia, California. By 1929, he had teamed up with Joseph Edy, a candy maker, to start an ice cream and candy company in Oakland, California. Dreyer reportedly used his wife’s sewing scissors to cut up pieces of marshmallow and walnuts, then added them to chocolate ice cream. Dreyer and Edy supposedly replaced the walnuts with almonds and dubbed the flavor Rocky Road, alluding to the October 1929 stock market crash’s tumultuous effect on the economy.
In 1947, Edy and Dreyer parted ways, and the company was named after Dreyer. But as they started expanding across the country, they ran into difficulties with the east coast brand Breyers. After some legal wrangling, it was agreed that Dreyer's would enter these new markets under the Edy's name. They have the same flavors, packaging, and brand identity, but Dreyer's is mostly sold in the western United States while Edy's is sold in the midwest and east.
The story doesn’t stop with Edy’s and Dreyer’s, though. Another Oakland ice cream shop claims to be the inventor of Rocky Road. In 1894, Eldridge Seth Fenton founded Fentons Creamery, and according to Fentons, Eldridge Seth’s grandson, Melvin Fenton, is responsible for creating Rocky Road [PDF], as well as Swiss Milk Chocolate and Toasted Almond. Fentons Creamery is still around today; in addition to ice cream, it serves burgers, hot dogs, and salads.
To further complicate matters, multiple sources claim that George Farren, a candy maker working at Fentons, is the true inventor of Rocky Road. Farren was friends with Dreyer and Edy, and that story goes that he blended a chocolate candy bar made with walnuts and marshmallows into ice cream, creating a Rocky Road flavor. Dreyer liked Farren’s idea and allegedly stole it, replacing the walnuts with almonds.
However, the first known recipe for Rocky Road originated not in California, but in Kansas. Several editions of Rigby’s Reliable Candy Teacher were published by W. O. and Fred Rigby beginning in 1909. For the 13th edition, copyrighted in 1920, they included a recipe for "Rocky Road," which is a little weirder than today’s version, but very similar in key details:
"Place a dish of chocolate ice cream in a sundae cup and over it pour a ladle of honey creme whip. Mix a few broken almond macaroons in with the whip and scatter whole pecans and walnuts lightly over sides. Top with a cherry."
If the 1920 copyright date is correct, that would leave Dreyer’s claim in tatters, as Dreyer had yet to even open his first ice creamery, much less partner with Edy. It would also damage Farren’s claim to ownership, because by 1920 the concoction had to be known enough to appear in a book from the midwest—and as such Dreyer and Edy wouldn’t have needed to steal it directly from him. As for Fentons' claim, they’re vague as to when their invention occurred, and again, the Kansas connection is an odd one.
But no matter who invented Rocky Road, one thing’s for sure: You can’t go wrong with the timeless, utterly delicious flavor.