The sun is high in that Arkansas sky, turning everything it touches into ash. It is an election year that features politician after politician proclaiming what a good job they are doing in the midst of sky-high inflation. The highly anticipated Razorback baseball team is the latest U of A squad to fizzle like a wet bottle rocket. It is almost more than your average Arkie can take.


Fortunately, there is something that takes people who are a heartbeat away from being madder than hornets and helps them reclaim a measure of spiritual calm and benevolence. That magical concoction is, of course, ice cream.


Much is said today about Americans needing a great unifier, something to bring together people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and various other preferences and leanings, something to fill in the generation gap, the wage gap, the influence gap, the socioeconomic gap — maybe even a thigh gap.


Ice cream checks all of those boxes and then some.


It is hard to overstate the importance of ice cream in the American cultural landscape. As a nation, Americans eat more of the stuff than any other country on the planet at about 20 pounds per person annually, the International Dairy Foods Association states. For those wondering how much that is, it fills four of those plastic buckets from the freezer case, the kind Mee Maw repurposed for, well, just about everything after the ice cream had been consumed.


Ice cream’s edible ancestry is too old for the dish to have been invented in the USA. Frozen treats stretch back as far as the Roman, Persian and Ottoman empires, when servants were dispatched by the ruling class to fetch mountain snow as a base, History Cooperative states. The first example of what would in any way resemble ice cream emerged during China’s Tang Dynasty from 607 A.D. to 918 A.D., an era when methods of freezing dairy products were developed, leading to a dessert made from cow, goat or buffalo milk mixed with flour and flavored with camphor.


As with people all over the world, Europeans went mad for the dessert as soon as famed explorer Marco Polo toted some back to Italy from one of his journeys to the Far East in the late 13th century. Even then, it would still be about 500 years before ice cream landed in the arms of the New World. Once there, however, ice cream firmly planted itself in America’s national image like no other place on earth.


Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, among other notables, were particularly rabid for ice cream; according to History Cooperative, the dessert was one of Washington’s few indulgences and many interests, and Jefferson designed and built ice houses, in part, to keep his stash handy. Once household refrigeration came into common use, ice cream became practically standard freezer fare.


A nation as mad for a given dish as the U.S. is for ice cream is all but guaranteed to be an innovator in the treat development, and Americans are nothing if not that. The USA lays claim to inventing the first ice cream parlor in New York in 1790, the first ice cream cone, which was introduced at the St Louis World’s Fair, in 1904, and the first soft serve, an invention claimed by three American entrepreneurs in the 1930s, not to mention steady improvements in manufacturing used in mass-producing the treat. Not for nothing, but sprinkles were invented in the U.S., as well, in 1932.


Enterprising Yankees even lay claim to inventing the ice cream sundae. Two of the inventors were soda fountain operators, one in Wisconsin and one in New York, who came up with a dessert to please a customer, stumbling onto a new menu item in the process. The third, ThoughtCo states, was an Illinois creation that substituted syrups for the soda water that was made illegal on the Sabbath by local blue laws. The inventor took the extra step to change the spelling of the name from Sunday to sundae so as not to offend pious customers.


Since then, ice cream has continued to evolve with the introduction of super premium brands, low-fat and fat-free ice cream, and even versions for the lactose intolerant. In recent years, consumers have seen a trend back to craft ice creameries that incorporate gourmet flavors and local ingredients into small batches of frozen delight over big brands.


In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan declared July to be National Ice Cream Month, which is as good a reason as any to take down a cone or dive into a bowl of one’s favorite flavor. In doing so, all can connect ice cream to the collective memory of summer days, childhood birthday parties and carefree times.


Arkansas shares in that American tradition thanks to several resident ice cream manufacturers and a delightful assortment of small, independent Main Street parlors. Check out the locations that follow to continue the legacy of ice cream as the indispensable dessert for the young and the young at heart.