“El Paraiso!” Growing up in South Texas, this was the cry that we would hear as kids marked the beginning of summer. Competing with the sounds of “Pop Goes the Weasel” from the more traditional ice cream truck, there would be an old man in a straw hat pushing a freezer cart around the park that I grew up across the street from, shouting, “El Paraiso! Paletas!”
El Paraiso was the frozen fruit pop store in the neighborhood, specializing in both American and Latin flavors of fresh fruit popsicles. Watermelon, tamarind, chili lime all sold next to strawberry, tangerine and cherry. Hardly farm-to-table, but still with fresh fruit.
My grandmother, Memi, always looked forward to the paleta man and would buy him out to stock our freezer. He would stop at the foot of our driveway and ring his bicycle bell and sing until she would come out, a tradition that held strong until she passed in 2001.
My sister liked the cantaloupe, Dad preferred cookies and cream, Mom ate espresso and I was the weird kid who went for the vanilla pudding with raisins (the fact that the raisins were always clumped in the tip was not a deterrent). Memi kept a hidden stash of flavors to dole out for rewards for completed chores or company on the porch.
We didn’t have much of a composed dessert history in our house. A). Mom was too busy. B). It was too damn hot to bake anything.
But what we did have was a love for the frozen treat. Beyond the paletas was Bluebell Ice Cream. After meals deemed dessert-worthy came a simple bowl of ice cream with fresh fruit. Buttered Pecan, Vanilla (we wouldn’t discover Vanilla Bean until the 90’s), and Rocky Road were Valencia Family staples.
Often, our summer meals were finished with us dragging some lawn chairs to the foot of the driveway and watching the people play in the park across the street, while we ate our bowls of ice cream as a family. Still when we travel home, my girlfriend and I are greeted with Paletas and Bluebell (and yes, I still share mine with Pancho, the family dog).
Professionally, ice cream and sorbets have always been the anchor of my repertoire. Never too sweet, always with the fruit coming forward on the palate. Now at Great Performances, I am offered endless avenues for frozen treats. Though I may have evolved to Valrhona Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches, Liquid Nitrogen Frozen Pearls and Churro Ice Cream Profiteroles, some of the hometown traditions remain close to heart.
Our quite popular Vegan Strawberry Ice Cream was modeled directly after the seasonal Poteet, Texas strawberry ice cream from back home, a complete game changer on the frozen confection front by the local HEB Grocery store. Our colorful, fruity ice cream, (like Blackberry Custard and Peach Crumble) mini ice cream cones and Farmstand Popsicles, with flavors such as cucumber lime, raspberry mint, and peach nectarine, are just missing the straw hat and bicycle bell. El Paraiso!!