Writing Out Loud: SPUMONI! – TWO CENTS, FIVE CENTS, 450 CENTS A SLICE!

By George Stahl

We call it ice cream. There are at least a hundred different variations of it, and we love it all. Ice cream is as American as apple pie and lemonade and property taxes. It even out does baseball as having more fans than any other product in the history of this country. Really? Yeah, really. 99.5 percent sure of that. Enough sure that it can almost be called ‘fake news.’ At best, it’s an exaggeration and an overenthusiastic rendering of a truth.

Since we are a country of such diverse people, we have been blessed with a variety of international ice creams as well as the old favorites, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. One of those other flavors was introduced to Americans by our friends from the boot shaped country with seashores on the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea called, Italy. It was in the late 1800’s when immigrants from Italy were coming here to find fame and fortune in the gold mines of California, and other western states. The men who came here to strike it rich were family men. businessmen, and farmers. They all had lives in Italy that they left for the glitter and allure of gold. Among them was a man who had a small business back home making the Italian version of ice cream, called, gelato. One of his most complicated concoctions was something labeled, Spumone, better known as spumoni. The fruity, nutty, ice cream originated in Naples, and had never been heard of in United States before that Italian, whose name was never recorded, decided to start distributing it on his street.

The Italians’ spumoni was greeted with open mouths and wallets by the hot, tired, and dirty miners. A hard day digging in the nearly dark spaces of the mines, or sluicing dirt from the river, was an exhausting way to earn a living for any man. A hot day of picking, chipping, and blasting, would leave a miner feeling pretty hot and beaten. Just when the prospectors’ prospects looked darkest, that’s when a slice, not a scoop, of spumoni ice cream was just what the quack doctor ordered. And, our little Italian friend was right there to make everything better again. Holding out a plate with a slice of spumoni in one hand, and just holding out an open hand on the other side. Two cents a slice was the usual rate, but when desperate times were shown, it was five cents a slice. They gladly would have paid more, but without a strike, there were no funds to give out.

So, the ice cream man started giving credit. That also meant that the slice on Tuesday, going for five cents suddenly had a balance due of ten cents per slice on Friday. Spumoni Sam’s mama didn’t raise any dumb bambinos in her house.

It wasn’t long before he gave up digging in the rocks for his fortune, and he started paying attention to his miner buddies a little closer. When they got hot and tired, Sam was right there to cash in. He was soon making more than some of those men who were working their claims.

Eventually, Sam’s spumoni business spread beyond the gold towns, before too long, his ice cream was seen almost everywhere. People were coming from miles away to get a slice of Spumoni ice cream from the guy who made Naples famous. It was sort of like that movie, ‘If you slice it, they will come.’ Sort of.
Anyway, the confection was a sensation and the legend behind it kept growing and growing. So much so, that even the story you just read is most likely 99 percent fiction. The point being, spumoni ice cream, made a lasting impression in the United States. After his venture in the west, apparently, others started making it by the truck load on the east coast as well. If it were thought of back then, spumoni might even be the national ice cream dish today.

Speaking of today, August 21 was actually declared National Spumoni Ice Cream Day. The proclamation came from someone who decided it would be best if no one knew who he was. Interestingly, in order for day to become a National day, among other things there must be a Presidential Seal of approval attached to the day, and then it must be passed by Congress. National Spumoni Day does not have that in its resume, but that is not enough to stop the true fan from celebrating the most innovative ice cream in the world.
Viva La Spumoni! It’s da bomba!