Alongside the kitchen telephone was a piece of paper headed by the phrase "Emergency Numbers." In that pre-911 era of 30 years ago, my family dutifully listed the Northern District police, the Fire Department and their favorite ice cream makers.
After all, what could be a bigger emergency on a warm summer evening that an unsatisfied hankering for a dish of Horn & Horn's coffee ice cream?
This was a time when Baltimore actually had real and vigorous ice cream competition. The stuff was all local, made in neighborhoods, and generally not sold any farther west than the Enchanted Forest or farther east than Middle River.
The two numbers that the ice cream judges ruled worthy of emergency status belonged to Fiske's Caterers in Bolton Hill and Horn & Horn near The Block on East Baltimore Street. There were serious discussions in that household of 13 about which firm made the better product.
At that time Fiske's was in a Park Avenue rowhouse just south of North Avenue. The most expensive ice cream made in Baltimore lived up to its cost. You could also order it delivered, packed in dry ice, to your home. This fabulous dessert was transported via a smart-looking dark blue truck with gold script lettering.
Fiske's Caterers had down a recipe for an orange and raspberry water ice with no equal. Its secret was that Fiske's water ice had no milk or cream in it. The other flavors, the chocolate, vanilla and pistachio, which had buckets of butterfat, were another story. Fiske's also baked fancy cakes and made macaroons that slaughtered any Atlantic City Boardwalk competition.
There has never been any ice cream to equal the delectable consistency of the Horn & Horn product. It was produced on an upper floor of that old culinary university in the 300 block of E. Baltimore St. Horn's served four flavors, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and coffee, each heavy in cream, but with a texture that sparkled with microscopic ice crystals. It got my vote as the best ice cream recipe anywhere and is completely unavailable today.
Like all the superb ice creams of that period, Horn's was always hand packed in pint or quart white cardboard tubes. Of course, you could always have a plate of it served at this very popular restaurant, whose founders were related to the Horn & Hardart automat chain in Philadelphia and New York. Horn's Baltimore food -- and ice cream -- was much tastier than that offered by the namesakes in the other cities.
The Castleman Brothers, Ely and Isador, churned a fancy vanilla ice cream in a Linden Avenue shop behind Maryland General Hospital. Not too many people knew about their special little operation, which somehow mixed a law practice with delicious desserts. One brother was the lawyer, the other the confectioner. They literally worked alongside one another.
The Castlemans remained in business until about 10 years ago. They stuck to one basic flavor, an ideal, silky vanilla, which became the lower ingredient in the famous hot chocolate sauce still made to perfection by chef Tony at Marconi's Restaurant on Saratoga Street.
Baltimore had other ice cream houses with local followings. Eckles seemed to possess the Harford-Belair Road corridor trade. Delvale ice cream had many outlets, but its tea room in the old Roland Park Shopping Center was the best. Arundel ice cream had many outlets, all packed on a summer night, before air conditioning.
The largest local ice cream was Hendler's, which kept more soda fountains in business than any other brand. Hendler's was a great all-purpose ice cream and was sold at very reasonable prices. The counter clerks at my neighborhood drugstore dipped a seven-cent cone until the early 1960s. Hendler's strawberry couldn't be beat and its vanilla held its own. It was a bad day for Baltimore ice cream when Hendler's fell to the Borden conglomerate.