July is National Ice Cream Month, a time to sit back and cool our heels. But what if you're allergic to the creamy dairy, delicate egg and luscious nut toppings that often accompany the frozen delight? That's the dilemma facing my kids and millions of others each summer. According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, nearly 6 million children in the United States have food allergies.
To this day, my son, Ty, and I vividly remember the sting of visiting an ice cream parlor when he was about 5. Ty was severely allergic to nuts and eggs then, but he had been begging to have a frozen treat like his friends. We ducked inside, explained Ty's allergies and asked nicely if the workers could scoop from a fresh batch of egg-free vanilla ice cream in the back so that we could avoid the nuts out in the general case.
They looked at us as if we were from Jupiter, then reluctantly agreed. Ty was a happy camper.
Then my daughter was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, eggs and nuts. It was enough to make me want to put the freeze on summertime treats.
Recently a friend mentioned Sunset Slush in the Pinecrest Pointe shopping center on Leesville Road in North Raleigh. They offer ice cream and Italian ice, a sweetened, water-based ice that's similar in texture to sorbet.
"It's smooth and creamy and completely dairy-free," says owner Matt Lindsay, whose sister is severely allergic to nuts. Sunset Slush offers 30 flavors, including chocolate, root beer, Creamsicle, watermelon, peach and blue raspberry, but there are dozens of combinations.
Lindsay keeps the ice cream and ices in separate freezers, in separate locations. He uses specially colored scoops for the two kinds of ice cream with nuts and ensures his staff is trained to know the difference. He's even gone so far—upon request and when the store isn't too busy—to open a fresh batch with fresh utensils for customers.
A month ago, my family was able to do something we've never done: go out for frozen treats that we all could enjoy. My husband opted for butter pecan ice cream, while my son and I had vanilla ice cream. After a healthy sampling of flavors, Talia settled on a watermelon ice.
We loved it so much that we bought a store koozie, an insulated container that we can refill with the ices for $1 each visit. We've been back at least a half dozen times.
In Wake Forest, Chris Dimino of Bacci's Italian Ices is reportedly equally cautious about allergens. He, too, has been known to open a fresh container of ice from the back and use sanitized dippers to reassure food-allergic customers.
Indy reader Michelle Thornton recommends the shaved ice at Pelican's SnoBalls in Clayton as a safe treat for her food-allergic family.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it's an encouraging start. Call ahead to your favorite ice-cream or frozen-ice parlor to see if they meet your safety standards.
If frozen treats at home are more your speed, you're in luck. From sorbets to coconut and soy frozen desserts, an increasing number of ice cream alternatives have hit the market. Our family's favorite is the vanilla and strawberry "Soy Delicious" or "So Delicious" nondairy frozen desserts by Turtle Mountain. Your guests will have a hard time seeing any difference between their smooth and creamy ice cream and yours.
Trish Gavankar's daughter, Marysa, loves the soy and coconut ice creams available at Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Kroger and many Harris Teeter stores.
Pair them with Edward & Son's gluten-free, vegan ice cream cones from Whole Foods, or egg-, dairy- and nut-free Joy Classic Waffle Cones or sugar cones from Kroger and you've got one cool ending to a hot summer night.
Joyce Clark Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.