By Deidra Lyngard and Sally Cohen
For two long-time Philadelphia institutions, Bassett’s Ice Cream and Chestnut Hill Academy, this is a milestone year, with both the school and the company celebrating their 150th anniversaries in 2011. And with the added connection of Bassett’s president Michael Strange (since 1983) being a CHA alumnus, what better way to celebrate the shared anniversary than to put students and ice cream together?
Which is exactly what happened last fall when Strange (the great-great-grandson of the founder of Bassett’s, Lewis Dubois Bassett) visited CHA and challenged the students to design a signature ice cream flavor that Bassett’s would produce in honor of the school’s anniversary. On All School Day in October, students divided into teams and competed to create a name and ingredient mix for the anniversary flavor.
Some of the proposed names included “CHAcolate Devils Food Swirl,” “Devil Berry Swirl,” “Blue Devil CHA CHA,” “Chocolate Hill,” “Super Duper Blue Devil Monstrous Blast Supreme,” and “Devil Mint Gummy Deluxe.” The winning combination, voted on by the entire school community, was “Devil’s Delight,” in honor of the school’s Blue Devil mascot, comprising chocolate and caramel swirls in a vanilla base, topped with light blue and dark blue M & Ms.
Recently, members of the student teams that won last fall’s competition gathered to sample their creation when Strange brought a batch to school for an official taste test. Though the tasting was intended initially for those teams that had invented the winning name and ingredients, word soon got out, and long lines of students (and faculty!) formed to get a taste of the much-anticipated winning confection.
As part of their preview responsibilities, the students were asked to fill out a form rating the flavor on its taste, the proportion of caramel and chocolate swirl to the vanilla base, and the amount of M & Ms in each serving. The overwhelming opinion was highly favorable, though opinion differed on the appropriate quantity of M & Ms.
Mr. Strange will use the students’ ratings to make final adjustments to the ice cream, which will make its official debut April 29 at the school’s Blue and Blue Day, followed by another presentation May 14, when CHA hosts a spectacular gala to close its yearlong anniversary celebration.
Bassett’s Ice Cream Company was founded in 1861, the year the Civil War began, when Lewis Dubois Bassett, a Quaker school teacher and farmer, began making ice cream in his Salem, NJ, backyard using a mule-turned churn. In 1885 he began selling his ice cream from a location at 5th and Market Streets in Philadelphia.
In 1893 The Reading Terminal Market opened, and Bassett’s Ice Cream opened a retail store and moved production into the basement. Founder Lewis Dubois Bassett died in 1906. In 1925 Lewis Lafayette, Jr., the third generation, took over management of the ice cream store and production at the age of 21. In 1935 he shipped 10 quarts of ice cream, packed in dry ice, via freighter from New York through the Panama Canal to the American Embassy in Tokyo. The voyage took several weeks, but the ice cream arrived in perfect condition.
In 1959 L.L., Jr., produced 50 tubs of borscht sherbet for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. In 1973 production moved to 20th and Fairmount Streets, near the Art Museum. In 1974 Ann Bassett, great-granddaughter of the founder and daughter of L.L., Jr., joined the company. In 1976 she was named company president when L.L., Jr., retired after 51 years.
CHA alumnus Michael Strange, great-great-grandson of the founder, entered the family business in 1983. L.L., Jr., died in 1986 at the age of 82, and Michael was named president in 1989; Ann was CEO. In 2007 Michael became CEO when Ann retired after 33 years.
Today Bassett’s offers more than 40 flavors of ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt. The 10 most popular flavors in order of their popularity are: Vanilla, French Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Strawberry, Coffee, Raspberry Sorbet, Cookies & Cream, Peanut Butter Swirl and Raspberry Truffle. More information at www.bassettsicecream.com.