Soft serve ice cream is one of those perfect summer foods. Being handed a cone of the stuff from the ice cream man is a childhood memory that’s hard to beat. But unlike ice cream, which started as a luxury product hundreds of years ago, soft serve has a much shorter history and is definitely a food of the people.
Soft serve was first invented in the 1930s, and it exploded in popularity almost immediately. But as opposed to ice cream, which can essentially be made by anyone, making soft serve is a more complicated process. The liquid mix is always prepared in advance (usually according to a very specific recipe developed and prepared at a central location), and poured into a chamber in a specialized soft serve machine for storage at about 37 degrees F. It’s then drawn into a freezing chamber, where it’s churned, frozen, and mixed with a specific amount of air, and then stored until it’s dispensed.
And the act of dispensing that soft serve? It’s definitely an art form. If you’ve never done it before, it can be a bit of a challenge (as evidenced by the many half-baked attempts we’ve seen on cruise ship buffets), and takes some practice. The Mister Softee swirl is taut and tall, the Dairy Queen swirl almost looks like a snowman, with a cute little curlicue on top, and Carvel’s offering tends to be more neat and precise than that of McDonald’s.
But what’s the exact history of this legendary treat? How does it get that smooth and creamy texture without immediately collapsing or melting? What else is at called around the world? And what on earth does Margaret Thatcher have to do with its development? For 10 funky facts about soft serve, keep reading.