San Francisco Native Foods: The Popsicle
This summer feels extra summery. Maybe it’s the second bed of tomatoes I planted, or just that today is the solstice, or that I’ve hung on to a slight tan from the desert… Whatever it is, the urge to wear skirts and seek out things like ice pops has hit me big time.
It wasn’t until very recently that I learned the origins of the popsicle – this pillar of summertime. In preparing for a native San Francisco foods diner party I read about Green Goddess Dressing, Chicken Tetrazzini, Mai Tai cocktails and spent almost an hour shucking oysters for my version of Hangtown Fry. I also read about the chap Frank Epperson, who, after an especially chilly evening in 1905, found that his drink had frozen on the porch the way he had left it the day before, with a stirring stick in the cup. Just a few summers later, equipped with a fancy new portmanteau name and a U.S. Patent, he was selling “popsicles” on Alameda’s Neptune Beach.
Epperson wasn’t in the business long before he sold the name and idea to a New York company that eventually folded into the Unilever conglomerate. Now “Popsicle” is one of those trademarked words that has worked its way into our American vernacular. Only Unilever can legally make and sell something called a “popsicle;” they even sent a letter to stop some girls in Brooklyn demanding they remove the -sicle from their brand People’s Popsicles. Alas, the generic “ice pop” just doesn’t have the same ring, but I offer that it is a more accurate term for the native food given that Unilever hasn’t actually made pops of any kind in San Francisco, ever. Ah, what’s in a name…
Today the creative class is bubbling over the Bay Area stage. You can walk down a street and find escargot lollipops sold from a refurbished taco truck. No Unilever is going to stop our chefs from playing with the frozen ice pop form, and this summer it seems like everyone is trying their hand. You can find them at many ice cream stores, but it is the pastry chefs on both sides of the Bay that are taking the popsicle beyond any of Epperson’s wildest dreams.
I caught up with chef-turned-pastry chef Paul Conte at Bocanova and he explained how it was a fun dish to play with difference spices and highlight the season’s best. He got his first shipment of peaches from over the East Bay hills in Brentwood, and together with a spritz of pisco and a dusting of pink peppercorns made what felt more like a desert than an ice cream truck treat. Cold and sweet bites of frozen peach flesh punctuated the texture without making it clumsy to eat or detracting from the blend of flavors. This seems very much in Conte’s style, his aim with desserts is never to overwhelm the meal or to drench diners taste buds with saccarine. His pop was a triumph to peachiness. He’s also playing with sugar and salt dustings for an organic strawberry pop with meyer lemon juice and rose petal sugar, and one made with fresh roasted coconut, palm sugar, vanilla bean scrapings and just a smidgeon of salt. As enticing ingredients enter his kitchen I’m sure the line-up will continue to evolve in this refreshing fashion.
Here are my top five ice pops, or whatever you call them, for which you should keep your eyes peeled:
1. Paul Conte’s creations at Bocanova, on Oakland’s Jack London Waterfront. He also makes an avocado pop that I’ll be back for.
2. At Chili Pies (and Ice Cream), in Western Addition, the chocolate popsicles are so dense and so refreshing – how can they be both at the same time? It’s a mystery.
3. Far West Fungi‘s candy cap mushroom popsicle, made by Humphrey Slocumbe. On Saturday (the 16th) these mushroom-o-files tweeted that they had these sought-after pops in…
4. On 12th and Folsom, at the Haya-Hon Pop-up restaurant there is a revolving list of imaginative pops. The one I had was green tea and tasted like condensed milk had been added to give an extra lux smoothness.
5. Atelier Crenn has been making something so unique it makes the list untasted. Doubling up on the native food idea, the menu lists Douglas Fir ice cream pops, complete with fresh fir and dramatic clouds of dry ice.