“It’s hot,” complained Patrick. “Ice cream?”
I contemplated the calories. “You know,” I said, “if I’m going to indulge, I’m going to indulge. I want something special.”
I put in a call to Niederfrank’s Ice Cream in National City (619-477-0828; niederfranks.com) and spoke with Patti Finnegan, who owns the store with Mary Ellen Faught.
Finnegan tells me that the shop, which opened in 1948, almost closed in 1995. “Nobody wanted to do the work it takes to make this kind of ice cream. But I came down here and fell in love with the place, and now I’m here about 12 hours a day.
“The machine we use to make the ice cream is 100 years old. It works just like a homemade ice-cream maker, except instead of salt and ice around the ice-cream tub, we have copper coils keeping things cold. And ours has two blades — one whips the ice cream one way, the other whips it the other way, and the machine freezes the cream as it whips. The blades naturally incorporate air into the ice cream as they whip. The modern way is to blast the ice cream full of air. That gives you more volume in your product, but, really, it’s just less ice cream.
“We have our own dairy mix, just cream and sugar. If you watch my ice cream melt side-by-side with a commercial ice cream, you can see the difference. Mine will melt into an ice cream–shake consistency. Theirs will separate into a foamy top — that’s the air — with the chemicals at the bottom.”
Finnegan continues, “I blend my own chocolate and make my own fudge. Sometimes the flavoring goes right into the hopper with the cream at the start. Sometimes I’ll whip it a bit first — say, if I’m making strawberry. I don’t want the berries to be totally mashed; I like to see little chunks of berry in there. So, I let the ice cream thicken before I add them. Right now, the chai tea is my personal favorite — I steep the tea for two days before adding it to the ice cream. The store is selling a lot of French vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, butter-rum pecan, and papaya-pineapple. Most of my recipes are over 50 years old and come from the original owner, Elmer Niederfrank.”
Cones sell for $2.90 a scoop; $4.90 for two scoops. The cones are “handmade roller cones from our own recipe. They’re like waffle cones, but we started doing ours long before waffle cones came into the other stores.” Hours are noon to 6 p.m. You can also find Niederfrank’s ice cream in restaurants around town at places such as Roxy in Encinitas, Big Kahuna’s in Pacific Beach, and Vinaka Cafe in Carlsbad.
Next I spoke with Dick Magana of Mariposa Ice Cream in Normal Heights (619-284-5197; mariposaicecream.com). “You’ve found San Diego’s best-kept secret!” he exclaims. “We are a true ‘mom-and-pop’ store. I’ve been making ice cream for 60 years. I was raised on a dairy farm, and my dad, granddad, and great-granddad all made ice cream — that’s where the recipes come from. Our machine has been preregulated to duplicate the old hand-cranked method.”
Like Finnegan, Magana says his ice cream has less air whipped into it than commercial ice cream — half as much, in fact. “Ours has a creamier, thicker consistency. And because we use a third less sugar, it has a cleaner, more refreshing mouth-feel. When people complain that commercial ice cream leaves a sticky, filmy feeling in their mouths, they think it’s because of the cream. But it’s not — it’s because of the sugar.”
Mariposa’s most popular flavor is Mexican chocolate, followed by cookies and cream (“I use whole Oreos that I crush myself”), vanilla, raspberry, and almond fudge. “We also make a lemon sherbet from Meyer lemons brought in by customers who live in the neighborhood. Some people use egg whites to make their sherbet, but we use two-percent milk. Our sorbet, however, uses just fruit, sugar, and water.”
The cost for a single cone at Mariposa is $2.50; $4 for a double scoop. “You can get commercial sugar or cake cones. Or, for $1 more, you can have a homemade waffle cone — it’s my wife Anna’s recipe. You won’t get a waffle cone like it anywhere else.” Mariposa Ice Cream is open Wednesday through Saturday 1 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 8 p.m.