Ice cream festival provides a cool treat while collecting money to buy books


Here's the scoop.

The 13th annual Ice Cream Festival kicked off yesterday with plenty of sticky faces. From the alabaster of vanilla to the zaniness of rainbow swirl, heated festivalgoers desserted their diets and dived into the cold stuff.

The three-day event, which also opens the new Lexington Market Book Bank, will collect funds and books for Baltimore Reads Inc., an organization dedicated to battling illiteracy. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke began the festivities by dropping the first two books into the new depository and serving ice cream to students from Grace & St. Peter's Day Care Center.

Ever the careful politician, the mayor took the political high (and safe) road, refusing to reveal his candidate for favorite flavor.

"I just like all flavors of ice cream," Mr. Schmoke said.

Julia Snouck-Hurgronje, a 6-year-old student at Grace & St. Peter's, was first in line to be served by the mayor, an experience she found to be pretty cool. "It's good," she said as she licked her cone of Rainbow Vanilla. "It's nice that the mayor gives away ice cream."

When asked if he would cast his ballot for a politician who handed out sweet treats, Robi Debell, 8, reacted with chilly indignation. "I wouldn't vote for him because he gave me ice cream," Robi said, sighing with labored patience. "I would vote for him because I like him."

Local radio and television personalities were on hand to spin the Literacy Prize Wheel, where festival goers can play to win items ranging from T-shirts to comic books. Everyone who contributes a new or gently used book to the Book Bank gets a free turn at the wheel. The books are dropped into a depository and later collected by Baltimore Reads, which distributes more than 7,000 books and comics a month to needy readers.

As temperatures outside hit 94 degrees, city workers poured into the market to sample the more than 100 flavors of ice cream offered at the festival.

"It would be nice if they had more flavors of sugar-free," social worker Pamela Gogovan said as she munched the decidedly delicious sugar-free fudge marble. "I'm diabetic."

The manufacturing of ice cream was pioneered in 1851 by Baltimore milk dealer Jacob Fussell, a fact that accountant Devon Harris said added up to him.

"Baltimore is the coolest city," Mr. Harris said. "It doesn't surprise me that ice cream was pioneered here."

Five booths had been set up by vendors yesterday to sell ice cream, yogurt, fruit bars and an addition to the world of desserts, Dippin' Dots, freeze-dried pellets of ice cream billed as the "ice cream of the future."

The bits of ice cream, which resemble ball bearings, have to be transported in a cooler with dry ice, both of which are supplied with deposit, said Dippin' Dots owner Diane Alejo.

Anna Marron, 9, of Overlea tested the chocolate Dippin' Dots and proclaimed them as good as regular ice cream. "It tastes like a chocolate candy bar," she said, clutching her plastic container containing the dots. "Plus it's a lot neater."

And is the conventional ice cream world worried about this new competitor? Jane Morris, spokeswoman with the International Ice Cream Association, says definitely not.

"Nothing will ever compare to real ice cream," she said, getting in the last lick.

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