When life hands out lemons, some folks make lemonade. Others react to a sour economy by transforming themselves into flavor magicians who sell frozen confections from carts or trucks at farmers’ markets or at brick-and-mortar shops. The frosty treats are based on ancient traditions of Italian gelatos and Mexican paletas, both created to beat the heat using ice from nearby volcanic peaks, according to legend. The modern alchemists of ice also source locally to create often startling flavor combinations. Pops of strawberry are spiced with pepper or basil, lemon is given a ginger zip, chocolate embellished with sea salt, and tart Key lime tempered with sweetened milk. Cones of intensely flavored gelato brim with mango, tangerine, creamy pistachio, dark chocolate with orange or cappuccino. But the tastiest ingredients are the pride, passion and imagination that these creative folks pour into their products. Here are a few we’ve run into around town:
Peak Season Pops
Jana and Steven Rice
Seasonally inspired frozen fruit treats are the specialty of this young couple, thus the name. Laid off during the cooling economy, they applied entrepreneurial skills to their prior experience (Steven’s in the culinary field, Jana’s in health education), invested in a tiny push cart and began to create frozen pops. Inspired by the success of Mexican paletas, icy treats made of fresh fruit and juice, they turned to locally sourced produce for pops good enough for kids and sophisticated enough for adults. Daughter Marin, 3, serves as the taste tester for kids’ pops. “If she turns her nose up at it, we don’t sell it,” her parents say. No artificial ingredients or dyes go into the healthy treats, leaving no blue lips or green tongues. Sophisticated additions of spices, herbs and heat entice grown-up palates: Berries in a Malbec wine reduction, chocolate with sea salt, grapefruit-tangerine-mint and the tart lime and mint of a mojito.
Yum Yum Pops
From his tiny cart at the farmers’ market at Audubon Park, Bob Schwartz offers vegan, organic fruit and flavor combinations that do double duty: combat the heat and delight the taste buds. It may be the kids who drag parents to his cart, but once there, the creative mashups entice adults, too. Semi-retired, Schwartz was looking for something to do during summer downtime in his organic garden. “We are lucky to be in Florida where we have fresh fruits available all year round,” he says. Citrus and juices from Uncle Matt’s Organics in Clermont form the basis of his treats. His flavor mixes are instinctive, “born of years of cooking”: combinations such as chocolate banana sea salt, watermelon and mango, peaches and blueberries, lemon and zesty ginger. Friends and family made an excellent testing ground for his experiments with flavor, and customers happily buy up the results. Most of his pops are vegan, as organic almond milk, not dairy, provides the base for the creamier pops.
When independent filmmaker Brandon Moss and his wife, Andi, a costume maker for Disney, decided to make a big change and turn their creative energies to the art of gelato, it was “very risky, very scary and hard work,” Moss says. “Because gelato is a gourmet food, we wanted to use the best flavors available in the world.” Milk from a local, grass-fed herd, vegan-friendly Florida sugar, organic juices from Noble Juice in Winter Haven, along with seasonally available local fruits form the basis of their 25 flavors. Their efforts paid off, and now they supply Whole Foods markets throughout the state. But they “missed interacting with customers,” Moss says. The company’s most recent venture is the MuseMobile, appearing at farmers’ markets around town. Triple dark chocolate, pale green pistachio, watermelon-mint and more are served in cones, authentic gelato cups or in sundaes with nuts, fruit and caramel.
3214 E. Colonial Dr.
4 Delights is a family business that began when the cooling economy nudged engineer Waldo Gutierrez, originally of Venezuela, into seeking a sweeter vocation. He and his wife, Carolina Ivanez, trained in New York and Miami to make what he calls artisan soft ice cream, which is essentially gelato with a Venezuelan flair. He makes the treats daily at his pristine, crisply decorated shopping-center store, where customers can choose from 36 flavors, with or without sugar and with or without dairy. All are low-fat and made with care, often using local ingredients. The shop’s signature flavor is mango coconut, but Nutella cheesecake, coffee mocha and a surprisingly delicious orange and dark chocolate also tickle customers’ fancy.