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Love affair with ice cream began with Hagan

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Many years ago, I wrote a story about the various methods people use to devour ice cream. I was struck by the unusual licking maneuvers, bites, tongue lashings, tunneling, aggressive, tentative movements that mouths and teeth take to tackle this treat.

I have observed them as I walk through Market Square and on summer vacations at the beach. Eating an ice cream cone is an art.

I know where my ice cream interest comes from. It began with my growing up in Uniontown, hometown to Hagan ice cream. My friends and I plunked down our 5 cents after school almost daily, winter and summer, for a cone from Hagan's dairy store.

We also went there for sundaes after movie dates.

With 5 more cents, we purchased fresh peanuts from the nut store next to the movie theater, and we sprinkled them on our cones as we walked home. There was no better treat.

Hagan was a name close to my heart. No matter where I went as a youngster, (and later as a college student), I bragged about our ice cream. I tried others, and did find a fudge ripple in South Duxbury, Mass., one summer in 1942 that rivaled the Hagan brand, but I couldn't wait to get home for my favorite.

I read recently that the ice cream is now made in Lancaster, not Uniontown, and the business was sold to Crowley Foods in the mid-'60s. There is a small sales office in Uniontown.

I'm not sure when I last tasted Hagan ice cream, which is still sold in a radius of only several hundred miles of this region. It's available, but other brands can satisfy my sweet tooth.

I felt an even stronger connection to the company when, as senior high school students during World War II, some of us were allowed to leave school to work at the Hagan plant stemming strawberries. They had lost some employees to the armed services, so students were recruited.

Rosie the Riveter had nothing on Stella the Stemmer. That would be me.

It was my first real paycheck, and I earned the distinction of being the fastest "stemmer" in our aisle.

I want that in my dossier -- if I ever have a dossier.

My pay envelope, which I saved, records $7.59 for a day's work. I relished fresh strawberry ice cream for the rest of that summer.

I always compared ice cream to what I knew from home. There wasn't a lot of competition in the '40s, but most areas bragged about their own creamy confection. I learned about Isaly's and Reinhold's when I came to Pittsburgh, but I was loyal to Hagan, even when I hadn't tasted it for years.

Then came Baskin & Robbins and fancy Haagen-Dazs, among others. So many choices, so little time.

My memory includes buying a Hagan pint (it was square) for 25 cents, which I devoured easily after a day of swimming when I was a teen-ager. We didn't get pizza after school or after the movies, even after a date. We got ice cream.

It's little wonder I began a love affair with the homemade ice cream at Springer's in Stone Harbor, N.J., after vacationing there the past 50 years. I have to say, it's as good, probably better, if my taste buds accurately relate the pleasure to my palate, and I think they do.

The obvious difference is in the price of a cone today. I think Springer's is now close to $2 for the size we used to purchase for a nickel. It's made on the premises, and it never fails to delight, but on any given evening you also wait in a long line before you can wrap your tongue around the cool, creamy concoction. My favorite is vanilla fudge, followed by fresh black raspberry.

My mouth is watering.

Nothing, however, could beat Hagan's chocolate. I like it light and creamy, not dark and fudgy.

I know my yearning for ice cream (any brand would do) continued during my pregnancy. The night I headed for the hospital for delivery, I had finished off a huge bowl. I remember stretching out on the sofa, the bowl perched on my expanded tummy. I was in heaven.

Within a few hours I would be a mother. My son likes ice cream, too.

I've tried many brands, believe me. After one serving, they seem to gather ice in my freezer until they are no longer palatable. I don't recall ever tossing out a pint of Hagan ice cream.

As reported on the PG's business page recently, Hagan now has 22 flavors, two of the new ones being Pittsburgh Pothole and Peachburgh. Reaching for its market-share growth, containers have been redesigned. I'll have to try it.

I keep wondering about the original recipe the late I.N. Hagan used in the early days. I'm sure it has changed. If it has, would I know?

Maybe knowing the Uniontown family (we would see I.N. and his wife, Bernadine, on the street from time to time) added to my loyalty, but in the long run, it was easy to be loyal.

It was just the best.

I'm available for a commercial. I'm ready for my close-up.

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