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Tradition flavors Fred Rogers' ice cream

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

By Suzanne Martinson, Food Editor, Post-Gazette

Add one more item to Fred Rogers' list of accomplishments. Mister Rogers has created a signature ice cream.

Fred Rogers tastes Blueberry Go-Round, an ice cream that he helped create for the 10th annual Pressley Ridge Ice Cream Sunday. With him at the Reinhold plant on the North Side are David McNewell (Mr. McFeely), and from left, Pressley Ridge pupils Ira Johnson, 8, his sister, Nicole, 7, Zachary Weaver, 6, and Eddie Scott, 7. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

It's creamy white, streaked with blueberry sauce and clumps of macaroons. Like everything the PBS icon does, he did it from the heart.

"When you are asked to create something, you go deep into childhood to bring that up," says the 73-year-old Rogers. "My grandmother always loved macaroons."

His grandmother, Nan Kennedy McFeely, encouraged him in his music.

"She bought me my first piano, later, a Hammond organ. Even if the piece I was playing in the recital was a minute and a half, she was there. She made me feel as if I was special."

He smiles the smile that has lighted up many a child's day via the small screen, where his show continues in reruns on QED. "And I have been so fortunate to be able to do that for children."

Creating an ice cream is an extension of his family's good works with children, because it will be featured at the 10th annual Pressley Ridge Ice Cream Sunday on Aug. 25. Rogers' great-aunt, Gertrude McFeely, was a long-time member of the board of the schools, which provide programs for troubled children.

As for the stream of blueberry flavor, it is redolent of 40 years of summers on Nantucket, home of many blueberry bogs.

Yesterday, at the Reinhold Ice Cream factory on the North Side Rogers -- he was zipped into a red cardigan -- tasted two variations, choosing almond flavoring over vanilla.


Reinhold's Web site: http://customicecream
, or call 800-351-2470, Ext. 753. Cost of $79.95 includes shipping.


And the name? "What do you think of Blueberry-Go-Round?" he asks Nicole Johnson, 7, Eddie Scott, 7, Zach Weaver, 6, and Ira Johnson, 8, of the Pressley Ridge family. Though their own personal favorites ranged from vanilla (two votes), chocolate (1) to the exotic "cotton candy," who could refuse a bowl of blueberry ice cream -- even if it did have macaroon lumps -- from the hand of Mister Rogers?

Geetha Manian, who helped make the batch of Blueberry-Go-Round, was thrilled to meet him. When son Ram got home from school, they often watched "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" together.

Rogers' flavor will join 11 others created by corporate teams in voting for the People's Choice Award, though not for The Silver Scoop Award, which is selected by a panel of judges, which this year will include a dog.

With a curiosity befitting a life-long teacher of children, Rogers tours the Reinhold plant with Craig Anauo, a veteran watcher with son Christopher when he lived in Buffalo, N.Y.

Yesterday, Reinhold was making ice cream for a private label, when president Bob Mandell pulled a white taster's cup off the line. It was the consistency of soft-serve.

"Do you know," Mister Rogers asked me, "that it takes three days for them to freeze it?"

The ice cream was creamy and subtly cinnamon -- a flavor that shows up alongside the apple pie at a well-known local chain.

"I hate to waste any," Rogers admits. (If only our tongues were longer, we wouldn't have, either.)

Blueberry-Go-Round -- "I thought a long time about what to call it," Rogers says -- will also be featured at three other Pressley Ridge Ice Cream Sundays --Baltimore, Aug. 25; Charleston, W.Va., Sept. 15; and Cincinnati Aug. 17 and 18.

Creating a flavor is no longer limited to Ice Cream Sunday competitors. Reinhold vice-president Michael Mandell has created a way for ice cream lovers to invent their own flavor. Reinhold will churn 1 1/2 gallons of an ice cream chosen from 7 different mixes, 35 flavors, 19 add-ins, 120 fruits and 9 nuts.

"For the person who has everything, your own ice cream," Michael Mandell says with a grin. "It's about 90 scoops, 85 cents a scoop -- cheaper than Brusters."

Clutching a bowl of his childhood-memory-inspired flavor, which is now melting in the warm factory, Rogers says, "I'd like to take some to my wife."

So Michael Mandell hustles up a freezer box. Last night, it was most likely Joanne Rogers who was doing a taste test. For Mister Rogers, there's a certainly symmetry to the whole affair, in which his grandparents' namesake is carried on the TV show by the fictional Mr. McFeely, a k a David Newell, a 15-year member of the Pressley Ridge board and a veteran of 10 Ice Cream Sundays right here on the North Side.

"Sorry my other name is not blueberry -- then we could really tie it all together," Fred McFeely Rogers jokes.

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