A Slice of Americana

There’s nothing quite like summer to put me in a patriotic mood. Fireworks extend from the Fourth of July through small town festivals and large city celebrations. We grill out and eat on our patio as much as possible, and seize the opportunities to hit the lake for some boating, fishing and tubing. Burgers and watermelon might not be our official national cuisine, but it feels awfully American to me, even more so when it’s served on a red and white checkered table cloth with Mason jars filled with iced tea or lemonade.

The other night, as we wound down from a nearly 100 degree day, Maggie asked if we could have root beer floats in the backyard after supper. Sounded like a grand plan to me! “Mom, do people in other countries make root beer floats?” she asked. Hmm. An interesting question. I knew that my good college friend Sandra, who hailed from the Burgundy region of France, couldn’t quite understand how Americans could stomach the taste of root beer (but then, when you grow up on a generations-old family vineyard, what need is there for anything to drink other than award-winning French red wine?).

As it turns out, root beer does have its origin right here in the good ol’ U.S of A. It dates back to colonial times when savvy beverage brewers began experimenting with different ways to brew batches of beer. The use of a plethora of different roots and berries eventually resulted in the deliciousness that has become root beer.

The origin of the root beer float is a bit mysterious, as the beginnings of fabulous things sometimes are. Some versions of the story contend that root beer floats were born in 1874 in Philadelphia, PA. Supposedly, a Mr. Robert M. Green was serving sodas for the town’s sesquicentennial celebration. When he ran out of ice, he teamed up with a neighboring vendor to keep his sodas chilled by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to each beverage. Voilà! Mr. Green forever changed summertime in America for innumerable children.

Another version posits that Frank J. Wisner, the owner of a soda water company in Colorado, was inspired one night in the late 1890s as he stared out on his property on a moonlit night. As the full moon shone down on a snowcapped mountain peak, it resembled a dollop of vanilla ice cream floating on the dark mountaintop. He hurried to his bar and added a scoop of ice cream to the town’s children’s favorite soda flavor, root beer. And so began, according to the family, the idea for a scoop of ice cream added to dark soda.

Whether Mr. Wisner or Mr. Green is to thank for this scrumdiddlyumptious concoction of beverage brilliance, I’m not quite sure. However, the root beer float is a testament to the ingenuity of our country’s forefathers, and has earned its spot on the hot list of classic Americana.

As my kids threw out a hearty hurray upon learning that this mom had bendy straws for their floats, I couldn’t help but think that summer just isn’t complete without the fun treats of the season. We had stopped at the apple orchard earlier and picked up a straight-from-the-oven apple pie (yes, I can roll out a pie crust with the best of them, but I’m letting someone else do the baking on a 98° day). Sitting at the patio table, apple pie and root beer floats in front of us, Ryan and I watched as the kids chased through the sprinkler in between swigs from their ice cream sodas. I couldn’t help but think how nice it was to enjoy our little slice of Americana. And since the state’s largest candy store is 7 miles up the road and sells more than 150 brands of bottled root beer, it should be a doozie of a root beer float summer.

Happy Summer!

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