Hanna Spiegelman is a 28-year-old Brooklynite and the creator of A sweet story, a blog and a company that creates ice cream based on historical figures whose lives were typically marked by controversy.
There’s its Ida Tarbell flavor, in honor of the 20th century crusading muckraking journalist, with double oak bourbon, coffee and nutmeg. And you really have to try his Antonio Gramsci, in honor of the long-lost feminist Sardinian Marxist philosopher, flavored with pecorino cheese (Sardinia), Russian jam (communists) and lavender (women’s rights).
On Thursday, Spiegelman, a recent Boston University graduate with a Masters in Food Studies, will teach an online series on her unique approach to ice cream storytelling through Gastro Obscura. I met her to talk about frozen desserts, famous people and, yes, Ben & Jerry’s.
Rob eshman: So why create ice cream from historical figures?
Hanna spiegelman: I wanted to find a way to connect my background in history and my passion for ice cream and flavor, and it just seemed like ice cream was the perfect blank canvas to use, for storytelling, to use as an educational tool, to use as an artistic medium, and so I ran with it.
RE: It just reminds me of that song, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Is that part of the idea, that you could really get people to struggle with the story better when they do it with ice cream?
SH: No one has ever mentioned this phrase when talking about my ice cream before, but that’s exactly it: picking something that everyone likes, that people already know, to get people to start thinking about things that they normally wouldn’t have thought or have discussions or get insight.
RE: You’ve been commissioned to make an ice cream based on John Rockefeller, the oil mogul, but I guess you’ve found that some people just don’t deserve their own ice cream flavor?
SH: I’m going to ask people to come see me with someone who may not be the brand. So for John Rockefeller, not a super admirable character, I went through his story to try to find a different angle, and that’s where I found Ida Tarbell, who was one of the reporters who denounced him. in the petroleum industry. I reached out to the customer who ordered it and they were totally okay with me changing the story to be more in line with the type of stories I want to tell.
RE: So what kind of ice cream flavor does an investigative reporter get?
SH: Walnut Oil and Double Oak Bourbon with Election Cakes, which were popular at the time, so I found a recipe for one that contained nutmeg and coffee.
RE: You got me a double oak bourbon. Tell me about your Esther and Vashti flavor: purple carrots, apricot wine, cardamom and gold leaf.
SH: So look at the story of the two women in the story and draw things out of it. With purple being the color of royalty, wine is incorporated into the story, drink and drunkenness, the spices of the region where the story took place, and the gold leaf comes from women clad in gold jewelry.
RE: What did it taste like?
SH: Very good. I made carrot and honey ice cream years ago. I’m really interested in using more salty items, but it was very refreshing.
RE: Carrot and honey ice cream looks like tzimme ice cream.
REQ: I was wondering what your reaction is to seeing ice cream spill over into this politics in the Middle East with Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott the West Bank?
SH: Ice cream, like so many other things people buy, can certainly have a political impact, but I’m not sure if it’s exactly the same as my storytelling through ice cream.
RE But I thought, Ben and Jerry’s was the first to market this idea of attaching ice cream to a personality, like Cherry Garcia, or Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream.
SH: For years, they’ve done some really cool things that a lot of other companies like them don’t, like climate change initiatives. This is a big part of what I learned in my masters program, that food is not just food, that food is really related to everything in life, politics, economics, l ‘education.
RE: In the case of ice cream, I wonder if the backlash against Ben and Jerry’s is because people associate ice cream with pleasure, innocence and childhood, and they say, no, like you said it, it’s political.
SH: Completely. People don’t expect something like an ice cream business or something they can bring to their kids’ birthday parties to say more.
RE: But the real irony is that there is nothing innocent about the history of sugar or dairy, the ingredients of ice cream.
SH: Exactly. In my thesis work, I was looking at ice cream consumption in the 19th century, when ice cream was something that was very elitist, something for a certain group of people. The history of sugar is closely linked to the slave trade.
RE: You could make a whole flavor of ice cream just based on the history of ice cream.
SH: Multiple flavors.
RE: Would you like to open a brick and mortar ice cream shop?
SH: It’s a real dream to have a physical place where people can come and not only have a little drink, but a place where people can come to chat and learn something and also have a pleasant dining experience.
RE: Because ice cream is not just ice cream.
This interview has been edited and condensed.