Posted in Liquid Refreshment

In Which We Talk About Ice Cream Sodas…

Root beer, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup
Three good things: very cold root beer, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup

It is a beverage known by many names: a float, a spider (if you live in the ANZ zone), a cooler (particularly if you live in Boston), and a vaca or cow (color dependent on what ingredients you use.)  Regardless of what you call it, an ice cream soda goes down a treat at any time of the day and even in the chilliest weather.

This particular soda fountain offering is said to go way back (seriously way back) to the end of the 19th Century when a Philadelphia entrepreneur named Robert McCay Green ran out of cream to use for the flavored sodas his establishment was known for.  In a pinch, Green added vanilla ice cream to a tumbler of soda water flavored with syrup – and the rest is history.

Ice cream sodas came to the Philippines by way of the Americans prior to the Second World War, but only became more commonplace in the 1950s because of such establishments as the Botica Boie, the original Dairy Queen, and the old Magnolia Ice Cream House.  It never really caught on for some reason, but ice cream sodas have become quite hip of late, what with the return of the Magnolia ice cream parlors and the addition of root beer floats – the most popular variation thereof – to the Kenny Rogers menu as well of those of Yankee diner-type restaurants.

The most basic version goes thus: put a couple or so ice cubes at the bottom of a tall tumbler, add a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, then pour over root beer or cola.  Root beer works best, in my opinion, because the somewhat medicinal, slightly resinous taste of the sarsaparilla is toned down by the soft, sweet richness of the vanilla.  If you live in Portugal or Brazil, this particular combination is called a vaca preta; in the United States, your counterman will most likely yell “Gimme a ‘brown (or black) cow’!”  Your cow becomes a “purple cow” if the soda jerk uses grape soda; plus points if he drizzles blueberry syrup or coulis over it.

There are as many variations on the basic formula as there are ways to tell any given joke.  In Boston, the classic Boston Cooler features ginger ale and vanilla ice cream.  Its Aussie counterpart, the spider, involves mashing a small amount of ice cream in a flavored soda (usually a fruit-flavored one; my friend, the Antipodean, however, insists on butterscotch cream soda), pouring in the rest of the soda, and floating a scoop of ice cream over the frothy mess.  There are even grown up versions featuring vanilla ice cream floating on Guinness or chocolate porter.

While I love classic tastes, I am of the opinion that ice cream sodas lend themselves well to improvisation.  So, if you want to add a twist to your soda, why not try the examples below?

  • Solid Gold  Tinned peaches or fresh, ripe mango chunks mashed in plain lemon or lemon-lime soda and topped with mango ice cream with warmed mango or peach jam drizzled on top;
  • Orange Creamsicle  Orange sorbet and vanilla ice cream in orange soda;
  • Ginger-Honey  Honey semifreddo or vanilla-honeycomb ice cream in ginger ale with a wee drizzle of dark honey;
  • English Garden  Dandelion-and-burdock soda (the brilliant purple stuff; Ben Shaws is a favorite);
  • English Rose  Rose syrup (Monin or get a bottle from an Indian/MidEastern grocery) diluted in soda water, vanilla ice cream, with rose macarons crushed over the top;
  • French Garden Same as an English Rose, but with lavender syrup instead of rose and tiny lavender buds sprinkled sparingly on top.


Midge started her career in PR writing at seventeen when she began drafting documentaries for a government-run television station in the Philippines. Since then, she made a career in advertising and public relations which ended in June 2016 These days, she works full time at Philippine Tatler as a features writer under the nom de guerre Marga Manlapig. Aside from what she does for a living and her poetry, she has turned her home kitchen into a personal culinary lab and is currently working on another novel. Follow her on Instagram at @midgekmanlapig.

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