When I moved to Cambridge from Honduras a few years ago, I was mentally prepared for endless winters and the worst possible scenario, whether that meant making it where I needed to go during an intense blizzard or putting on more than fives layers of clothing every time I walked out the door. Having lived in the tropics my entire life, the weather – except for maybe the occasional hurricane – never had much of an influence on my every day life. Oddly enough, our “winters” simply meant a few weeks of rain, and so the outside temperature was never a consideration at all. Now, balmy, sunny days are a luxury I certainly don’t take for granted.
Without a doubt, we live by the weather in this part of the country. However, I will never forget one frigid afternoon in January during my first winter here when a friend of mine asked me to join her for ice cream at Herrell’s, her favorite shop in the Square. I remember sitting in the infamous back-room called “The Vault” (in light of the fact that a bank used to exist in the same locale). Yet as I was indulging in my second scoop of “cookies ‘n cream,” I came to the realization that even though the temperature outside was at least 20 degrees colder than that of the ice cream I was eating, I had not for one second questioned my craving for what has now turned into almost a daily ritual for me.
The fact that New England has the highest consumption of ice cream per capita in the U.S. never ceases to amaze me. After all, it is essentially winter here for almost eight months of the year. Just walk into any Newbury Street ice cream parlor on a busy Saturday afternoon in January, and you’ll find folks waiting in line outside in the bitter cold.
Some experts argue that the large student population in the area drives demand. Others believe the ice cream tradition in New England is strong since the 18th Century when Nancy Johnson invented the first ice cream churn, which led to its mass production. Regardless of what the reasons might be, one thing is clear: New Englanders are obsessed with this frozen treat.
So next time you’re shivering as you’re walking around the cobblestone streets of Cambridge and Boston, stop at a local shop (stay away from Ben & Jerry’s or Baskin Robbins) and treat yourself to a scoop or two. For in New England, there is no such thing as it being too cold for ice cream.
Best of Boston
J.P. Licks – 352 Newbury St.
Don’t be intimidated by the artistic cows painted on the walls or the crazy names of the flavors. This place has been a local favorite for over 24 years. The “cake batter” ice cream is hands down the best. If you’re watching your waistline, J.P. also offers nonfat and sugar-free frozen yogurt that puts Tasti-D-Lite to shame. They also have fantastic alcoholic flavors such as Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Cherry Rum Garcia (a play on the notorious Ben and Jerry’s flavor. Arguably the best ice cream in Boston, J.P. Licks has over eight locations, including one in Davis Square in Cambridge.
Best in Cambridge
Christina’s – 1255 Cambridge St.
Although many of the best chefs in town use Christina’s ice cream in their dessert offerings, most Cantabrigians skip the middleman and go directly to its source in Inman Square, making this place a great after-dinner spot. Exotic flavors such as blood peach, khulfi (cardamom and pistachio), licorice, gingersnap cookie, and green tea are among the favorites. Also, its toffee chip hard yogurt is absolutely amazing and a healthy alternative. The seasonal sorbet offerings are also worth trying.
N.B.: If visiting during the day, be sure to check out the spice shop next door that is owned by the same people. Most of the ice cream flavors offered at Christina’s use these spices.