A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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The Real Scoop

on Sweet Dairy Devotion

By Stacy Milbouer and Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editors

Everybody has their favorite ice cream stand and, let’s face it, there’s more to it than just sugar and milk - there’s also the ambience, familiarity and, truth-be-told, ice cream loyalty.

The frozen treats always taste better at that place you went with your dad on summer, Sunday afternoons, or that drive-in with the big neon ice cream cone you visited when your family went to the lake. And who can forget that first date at the ice cream stand near the high school?

Ice cream is not just about your favorite soft serve cone or the amount of chocolate jimmies on the hot fudge sundae. It’s also about nostalgia and the intoxicating mixture of hot summer nights, cold, creamy joy – and yes – a little romance.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan named July American Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month National Ice Cream Day. He suggested Americans celebrate the occasion with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

So, the cone is in your court. Here are some of the best-known and most-loved ice cream stands, fountains and parlors in our part of the state for you to honor the occasion.

Is it the life-sized cow figurines grazing at a busy crossroads or a pirouetting red, neon sign that draw so many hungry travelers to Sawyer’s Dairy Bar in Gilford? Perhaps it’s just tradition, considering the ice cream stand has been serving up banana splits and chocolate frappes since 1945.

Speaking of signs, for an urban, “American-Graffiti” vibe, take a turn at the neon vanilla ice cream cone on Valley Street in Manchester and head for Cremeland Drive-In, which has been offering cups and cones since Ted Williams hit his first home run in 1939. On a recent weekend, landscaper Robbie Bouchard was served a fried dough sundae carefully prepared by Cremeland employee Erin Naughtan, who decided to double Bouchard’s order because “I felt he had to wait a little too long for his ice cream.” Talk about sweet service.

Between gooey, bold mouthfuls, Bouchard said he’s been coming to Cremeland since he was in grade school. “It’s close, good prices, good ice cream,” he said.

Puritan Ice Cream has been a summer mecca for Queen City residents and out-of-towners alike for 100 years. It’s still co-owned by a member of the founding family and the original owners’ Greek roots can be seen in Puritan flavors like homemade baklava ice cream – vanilla and cinnamon ice cream with honey, walnuts and baklava pieces. The stand at 245 Hooksett Road celebrated its centennial earlier this year by giving away free cones and with live Greek music in the stand’s attached restaurant, the Puritan Backroom.

Blake’s Creamery has also been satisfying the sweet teeth of Mancunians for generations. It was founded in 1900 by Edward Charles Blake, who delivered dairy products in a horse-drawn wagon. He opened his first restaurant in 1963 and began serving meals as well as homemade ice cream. The creamery now makes more than 80 kinds of ice cream and has two restaurants, Blake’s South Main Street and Blake’s D.W. Restaurant on Hooksett Road.

Another urban ice cream icon is the counter at Granite State Candy Shoppe on Warren Street in Concord, which has been open since 1927 and serves super-premium (made with 16 percent butter fat) ice cream using products from nearby Contoocook Creamery.

And Ballard’s Ice Cream has been dishing out creative cream confections for nearly 35 years on Broadway in the capital city. It’s known for its unusual sundaes like the Funny Bone Bonanza and Strawberry Twinkie Delight.

It’s nice to eat a double dip, but just as nice to double dip your summer pastimes like you can at Countrybrook Farms Garden Center and Creamery in Hudson. Regulars can sample 40 different kinds of ice cream from Blake’s Creamery and pick up a plant or two. A 150-year-old barn houses a gift shop and a four-acre “backyard” is filled with plants, trees and shrubs. Aficionados swear by its Moose Tracks, vanilla ice cream with mini peanut butter cups and Moose Tracks fudge.

Authentic country is the backdrop of Mack’s Ice Cream on the 400-acre Mack’s Apples on Mammoth Road in Londonderry, which has been farmed by the same family since 1732. In addition to cones and cups, the ice cream stand features extra thick frappes and creative sundaes like the Green Monster, Peanut Butter and Jelly and Fluffer Nutter to name a few. And unlike a lot of ice cream stands, there are many options for eating frozen treats on-site including outdoor picnic tables, a shaded covered porch or looking out on a duck pond.

Want to work the ice cream off? Patrons are invited to walk the many trails at the farm including the Pear Loop which brings you to an old roadway that predated Mammoth Road.

The gigantic The Big 1 ice cream cone sign has been a landmark on old Route 3 in Nashua since the 1950s. The main highway may have passed the stand by, but not its fans, who swear by the Nor’easters, a blend of vanilla and chocolate twists of soft serve mixed with a selection of toppings, including M&Ms, peanut butter cups, strawberry and chocolate chips. As an added bonus, Lavoie’s Farm operates a stand in the parking lot selling fresh corn, tomatoes and other produce fresh from the fields. It makes it that much easier to justify your strawberry cheesecake parfait when you’re buying a head of kale.

Fresh vegetables are also sold in the parking lot at Hayward’s Ice Cream on Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua, but it’s the more than 60 flavors of homemade ice cream and the cozy outdoor seating that has made it the summertime social epi-center for city residents for the past 76 years. The stand has been owned by the same family since its inception and sells about 140,000 cones a year filled with the ice cream which is made on-site.

The most recent addition to the ice cream stand is a playground upcycled from an old Hayward’s Ice Cream delivery truck. Hayward’s also has a family-owned location on Elm Street in Milford.

While not technically an ice cream stand, no story about iconic New Hampshire ice cream joints would be authentic without mention of the Kellerhaus and its homemade ice cream buffet, which is as much a part of people’s Weir’s Beach getaways as sunburns and boat rides. The business started 110 years ago when Otto Keller bought the candy store he worked in and started selling ice cream made from ice harvested from Lake Winnipesaukee. And while there have been several owners over the century, the Kellerhaus still uses the original recipes for its ice cream and other treats like homemade chocolates.

Some things never change, like the amazing view of Lake Winnipesaukee from the Kellerhaus windows or the tub of little paper American flags at the end of the buffet meant to plant on top of heaping bows of creamy, frozen sweetness.

Happy Trails

There is a New Hampshire Ice Cream Trail with stops at nearly 50 restaurants and shops from Nashua to Berlin. It’s not a complete list, but it is extensive. The trail is the creation of Granite State Dairy Promotion, which boasts “dairy is great from the Granite State.”

The map may be found at state rest areas, welcome centers and online at nhdairypromo.org. Keep it in the glove compartment of your car for quick reference on summer road trips.

Ice Cream Directory

Click here for our directory of local ice cream shops & stands.