Ice cream isn't always sweet

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By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 6:10 PM

Did you see my colleague Michael Rosenwald's fascinating story recently about the latest chapter for Gifford's, the beloved local ice cream chain? One of the retail locations was allegedly selling something other than Gifford's, which has the wholesale guys - owners of the brand - understandably frosty.

What jumped out of the article to me was this sentence: "To this day, family members insist that the Gifford's wholesale operation is not using the real recipes, even though company executives say they are."

Can that be true? Yes, according to a 2008 blog post by Gifford scion Andrew Gifford, himself the subject of an article in The Washington Post Magazine two years ago. Andrew wrote on his blog that in 1985, before the sheriff came to shut down the bankrupt Gifford's, he, his mother and grandparents went to the Silver Spring location:

"The primary mission was to get the recipes. And we did. There were only two copies - one locked in the main office, and another in a lockbox in the plant. The recipes were already buzzing around as a primary auction item, so, in a brilliant moment of forethought, we replaced them with forgeries. These were actually handwritten notes kept by Calver Headley (Cal), who started York Castle Ice Cream after Gifford's fell. He listed the very basic ingredients, more or less intended to keep track of what goes where when it was dropped off by the vendors. My mom even 'aged' them in classic grade school art project style - put them in the oven, fold and tear them so they look worn and faded. . . ."

Ever since then, according to Andrew, Gifford's has been using the fake recipes.

Not so, says Neal Lieberman, owner of Gifford's wholesale. "That's the first I've heard of it," Neal said. "We have the Gifford's recipes."

Neal said they have changed some ingredients to try to make the ice cream all natural. For example, the Peppermint Stick flavor no longer uses Starlight mints. They contained red dye No. 5, he said.

"In terms of the ice cream, it's as fattening as ever," Neal said. "That's why it tastes good."

I asked Cal Headley, former Gifford's employee, what he thought.

"I do not know about any switching of the recipes, anything like that," he told me. He said the current Gifford's product doesn't remind him of the classic Gifford's product.

But you must take that with a grain of rock salt, because Cal runs his own ice cream business. His York Castle brand is available at Caribbean supermarkets and restaurants and at a retail location on Hungerford Drive in Rockville that he opened in August 2009.

Where it is not available is at Tropical Ice Cream Café on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, which is the location Cal opened as York Castle Tropical Ice Cream not long after Gifford's closed. ("I saw the writing on the wall," he said. "Based on the way things were going, I knew it wouldn't be long.")

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