Feeling Depressed? Reach For That Rocky Road Ice Cream!

The history of Rocky Road ice cream seems to be, well, rocky.

Get it?


[hangs head in shame]

That was a horrible joke.

What I mean is, there really isn’t any fact to back it up. It centers around two stories told by two different companies that are unable to provide any definitive sources.

That’s cool. I ain’t mad at cha.

I chose not to include the video because he says bad words in the lyrics. That’s bad.


To quote Albus Dumbledore, greatest headmaster Hogwarts has ever known, “From this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wildest guesswork.” (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Duh.)

The best Dumbledore.


First, let’s talk a little about ice cream during the Great Depression.


Americans loved their ice cream. In 1929, American creamy-delicious-goodness consumption averaged about nine quarts per person a year. Once the Depression kicked into full gear (more specifically, 1933), consumption dropped to a disappointing five quarts per year. I guess the question to ask is, why on earth would anyone stop eating ice cream?

The only reason I can think of to stop eating ice cream is when it’s all gone.


Frankly, because they were stressed. Like really stressed. Americans turned their backs on emotional eating and instead took up beer. I guess ice cream is good when your boyfriend just dumped you via Facebook, but beer might be a little better at making you forget you just lost everything and are boiling boots in water for supper.*

(source) (source)

*Pure speculation. Not fact. Possibly wrong.

Ice cream makers now faced the age-old problem of “omg we’re not making enough money anymore.” They dealt with it by consolidating their businesses, increasing mechanization, and improving their refrigeration techniques. They also invented new marketing and sales strategies, some of which will sound familiar.

“If we put toys in it, kids will want it more!”


One company encouraged consumers to eat their morning cereal with ice cream, stating, “IT IS cream, you know.” Another company claimed it was great protection against the common cold. There was advertising for “reducing diet” sundaes, which were made with fresh fruit and a small amount of ice cream. Soda fountains offered bargains, like a 5-cent ice cream cone, which was not profitable but attracted customers (think the Recession Special at Gray’s Papaya in New York). They also sold “nickel novelties” – the Cho-Cho, chocolate ice milk bars; Side-Walk Sundaes that were termed “syrup-center nickel sensations”; and Twin Popsicles, which children could split if they couldn’t afford their own.



Then there was marketing towards the kiddies. One ice cream company said that purveyors should “catch a child’s fancy and their trade is loyal and profitable.” In other words, soda fountains and ice cream parlors should do things like give out balloons bearing the soda fountain’s name on it, add gumdrops to sundaes, and used kid-sized tables and chairs to encourage kids to make their parents get them ice cream.

Oh, come on. This is so freakin cute. Shirley Temple and Baby LeRoy.


By 1937, Americans were once again eating their feelings instead of drinking them. As the economy improved, ice cream consumption returned to 9 quarts per person.

Here’s one take on how ice cream during the Great Depression.

Now onto Rocky Road.

During at the beginning of the Great Depression, ice cream was made primarily in three flavors, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and usually served as sundaes.

This image is actually advertising from the UK, but the sundae still utilizes all three original ice cream flavors.


Then William Dreyer came along.

Dreyer started working with ice cream in 1906 making desserts on the German ship that brought him to America. After spending some time in New York City, he moved to northern California and worked as an apprentice for 20 years with different ice cream makers, such as the National Ice Cream Company and Peerless Ice Cream. He opened his own shop in 1921 in Visalia.

Over the next 20 years he taught ice cream courses at UCA and was an officer of the California Dairy Industries Association. He then moved to Oakland, where he met and partnered up with candy maker Joseph Edy. They opened a store on Grand Ave, which became part of their ice cream’s brand name (Edy’s Grand).


Does all of that sounds like a pre-written customer service response? Yes? Ok.

Dreyer came up with Rocky Road ice cream in 1929. He added walnuts to chocolate ice cream, along with marshmallows he cut into eenie weenie bite-size pieces using his wife’s sewing shears. He quickly changed the walnuts to almonds, and Rocky Road was born. He and Edy decided to name their ice cream “Rocky Road” as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Great Depression and the difficulties that lay ahead.


Rocky Road became America’s first “different” flavor and, according to some survey, which I was not given a reference to, one of the best selling flavors of all time.

Here we run into a problem. Another Oakland, CA creamery, Fentons, claims that they are the inventors of Rocky Road.

Nbd, Fentons was featured in UP, yea that movie didn’t make me bawl like a baby 3 minutes, no I didn’t spend the whole moving sobbing STOP ASKING ME SO MANY QUESTIONS.

The story is that George Farren, the candy maker at the creamery, was making a Rocky Road candy bar with English walnuts when he decided to chop it up and add it to ice cream. He was good friends with Dreyer and Edy and shared his brilliant idea. The two stole Fentons idea and began making the flavor at their shop. They used the same walnuts but switched to almonds, possibly to avoid accusations of copycatting. Fentons still markets their Rocky Road as the “Original” Rocky Road Ice Cream.

This is a “normal” vanilla sundae at Fentons. Oh my god. I want to go to there.


These days, some Rocky Road ice creams come with additions, like chocolate chips, fudge, caramel, marshmallow cream, or bits of cookie. In Australia they add jam while in the UK they add cherries and raisins. A similar flavor is Vanilla Swiss Almond, which is vanilla ice cream with whole almonds covered in chocolate. People make Rocky Road cupcakes, cakes, and (of course) candy bars, but we all know the ice cream is vastly superior. Why? Cause it’s freakin’ ice cream, that’s why.

I’m actually weeping right now. I must have this. God I love ice cream. Probably as much as I love Japan.


June 2nd is National Rocky Road Day. Also, watch this video.

Here’s a picture of rocky road I made. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say mine is like a bajillion times better than what you could buy in the store.

Ok, fine, it’s just topped with stuff, but it was still dang delicious.

Keep eating and asking, my friends.



-Hopkins, John-Bryan. “June 2nd National Rocky Road Day | Foodimentary – daily food holidays.” Foodimentary – daily food holidays. Foodimentary, 2 June 2012. Web. 24 July 2012. <http://foodimentary.com/2012/06/02/june-2-national-rocky-road-day/>.

-Kelly, K. Susan. Customer Response Representative at Dreyer’s Ice Cream. Email interview. 18 July 2012.

-“National Rocky Road Day .” Free Online Invitations and Party Planning with Punchbowl. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. <http://www.punchbowl.com/holidays/national-rocky-road-day>.

-Quinzio, Jeri. “Ice Cream During the Depression – University of California Press Blog.” University of California Press. University of California Press Blog, 23 Feb. 2009. Web. 24 July 2012. <http://www.ucpress.edu/blog/133/ice-cream-during-the-depression/>.

-Quinzio, Jeri. Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Print.

-“The Fentons Creamery Blender Club.” Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. Fentons Creamery, n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. <http://web.archive.org/web/20060430215000/http://www.fentonscreamery.com/blender.html>.

-“What is Rocky Road Ice Cream?.” wiseGEEK – Clear Answers to Common Questions. wisegeek.com, n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-rocky-road-ice-cream.htm>.

5 thoughts on “Feeling Depressed? Reach For That Rocky Road Ice Cream!

  1. Mary F. says:

    Esther, what a fun post. I think we must have been twins in another life – I too am a HP fan, LOVE ice cream, and was an Asian Studies minor in college. (Therefore am fascinated with Japan and China.) Not a huge fan of the Rocky Road flavor, however. In terms of ‘gooey goodness’, I tend to prefer vanilla-based flavors. Except for Jamocha Almond Fudge at Baskin-Robbins. YUM.

  2. Sara @ The Cozy Herbivore says:

    Great post! I know I’m biased, but have you tried the Rocky Road at the Franklin Fountain? I’m pretty darned proud of it. (Mostly because I have to make that f@#%& marshmallow sauce every day, which is a pain in the butt but totally worth it…)

    Anyway, in homage to Rocky Road’s Depression-era roots, we offer a sundae called the Stock Market Crunch, which I think is pretty hilarious.

    I’m going to share this post with my bosses, I know they’ll totally love all of the ice cream history you’ve included– thanks!

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