Q: About this time of year, I always remember the summers of my childhood in Sulphur Springs of the early 1960s. Cheery snow cones sold on the Hopkins County Courthouse lawn by Future Homemakers of America, vacation bible school, and the annual summer revival at Calvary Baptist Church. The humidity was thick and there was no air conditioning. My mother promised that if I kept quiet and still we could stop at Sabine Valley Ice Cream on the way home. The thought of that honeydew cream cone always did the trick. They had many flavors, but I wanted nothing other than that beautiful light-green, delightful, and creamy honeydew. I understand the last Sabine Valley store closed up decades ago, but whatever happened to that secret recipe for the honeydew?
Michael D. Morgan, Birmingham, Alabama
A: The Texanist always has a good time whenever he receives a letter that allows him to temporarily swap his advice-giving hat and his reference books for his sleuthing cap and his comically large magnifying glass. Providing good guidance to troubled Texans is important work, but there’s nothing quite like delving into a good old-fashioned mystery. This query reminds the Texanist of the time back in 2014 when he basically got Furr’s cafeteria to release their famous butter chess pie recipe to him on behalf of a nice woman from New Mexico who had been jonesing for this dessert since leaving Texas decades earlier. Furr’s, though, is an ongoing endeavor and the Texanist was able to simply pick up the phone, give them a call, and ply them with sweet talk. Yours is a conundrum of an altogether different flavor.
The Texanist, having been raised in Central Texas, primarily on Blue Bell, had never even heard of Sabine Valley Ice Cream and came at the case blind. But after some initial digging, he discovered that the Sabine Valley Ice Cream Company was, for a period in the middle part of the last century, a prominent maker and purveyor of ice creams not only in your hometown, but also in a number of other North Texas locales. In addition to the shop you frequented on Main Street, in Sulphur Springs, there were also Sabine Valley scoops to be had in Cooper, Garland, Greenville, Honey Grove, Winnsboro, and Wylie. The company was headquartered in Greenville, where the plant was located, and the frosty product was distributed from there to the various small-town retail outlets.
As the Texanist began to scour the web for clues, it quickly became apparent to him that you are not the only person who holds such fond childhood memories of Sabine Valley’s chilly creations. It was also quite clear that the most popular flavor by far was the honeydew melon that you favored. Your eloquent description, in addition to causing the Texanist to drool a little bit onto the front of his shirt, appears to be accurate. Interestingly, many people enjoyed their Sabine Valley honeydew ice cream in milkshake form.
Honeydew is an unusual flavor for an ice cream, and the Texanist, an admitted lover of cold treats, has never in all his fifty-plus years come across it. He has, though, enjoyed delicious cantaloupe licuados—a simple Mexican smoothie consisting of blended fruit, milk, and ice—on numerous trips south of the border and can see the magic of a honeydew ice cream. He can also see very clearly how a coneful must have really hit the spot on those sweltering summer days in Sulphur Springs.
The bulk of what the Texanist uncovered in the course of his investigation consisted of anecdotal mentions, not much more than old newspaper advertisements and wistful comments on Pinterest and Facebook and other websites. “My dad would take us after we went to watch the Katy come thru in Garland,” wrote one fan. “I’d give anything for a scoop of honeydew!” pined another. “My husband found this Sabine Valley Ice Cream carton in our safe,” a Facebook commenter wrote beneath a photo of an ancient half-gallon tub. “His father passed it to him.” It was fun to peruse the recollections of your old neighbors, but there were few hard facts to be had and even fewer leads to follow.
The Texanist, undeterred, soldiered on. Late one night, while burning the midnight oil, he came across a decade-old article that appeared in the Herald-Banner, Greenville’s local newspaper, ballyhooing the new sales coordinator at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. The story included an intriguing detail and the Texanist’s first break in the case. Shauna Nabors, the young woman who would be filling the position at the chamber, told the reporter that she was going to be a perfect fit for the position partly due to the fact that her whole family hailed from Greenville. And then, going on, she revealed that her great-granddad had even once been the owner of the town’s crown jewel, the Sabine Valley Ice Cream Company.
Ever dogged, the Texanist was able to procure a phone number for the woman and gave her a call the very next day. As it turned out, he had been given not her number, but the number of a man who identified himself as her father. The Texanist had reached one Eddie Bell, of Greenville, the grandson of Clyde Benbrook, who had, the Texanist learned, along with his brother George, founded the Sabine Valley Ice Cream Company shortly after World War II, possibly in 1946.
Mr. Bell had many fond memories of growing up in and around an ice cream factory, which did not surprise the Texanist, but he was short on specifics. The Texanist was able to learn that Bell’s Papaw passed away in 2005 at the age of 95 and that his brother George had preceded him in death, in 1994, at age 93. The ice cream company had been sold at some point a ways back, possibly in 1965. The Texanist asked Mr. Bell what had come of the recipe for the honeydew ice cream. “There were no recipes,” Bell explained. “One time I said, ‘Papaw, I’d like to have the recipes,’ and he told me that there were no recipes. He just pointed to his head and said that they were all ‘up here.’” Bell was unaware of any hard copies. Before we hung up, he did, though, inform the Texanist of the existence of a Facebook group dedicated to Greenville and, specifically, the Greenville of yesteryear. Sabine Valley Ice Cream was a frequent topic, he said.
“I Was Raised in Greenville, Texas” is a members-only group, but after filling out the provided application and waiting a period for approval, the Texanist was eventually admitted. Mr. Bell was right; there was indeed much discussion about Sabine Valley. There were even a number of inquiries about the disposition of the recipe for the famed honeydew. The Texanist noticed a few comments from former Sabine Valley scoopers and even a couple from the offspring of some once high-ranking employees. Alas, the Texanist is sorry to report, there were no recipes.
Yet just as the Texanist was ready to give up on the case and type up the final bill for his client, he recalled coming across a recipe for a delicious-sounding cantaloupe ice cream in a years-old post on the popular Homesick Texan blog, a site dedicated to sating the appetites of far-flung Texans such as yourself. The Texanist wondered if, perhaps, one could take this recipe and simply swap honeydew melon for the cantaloupe. He reached out to the blog’s author, Lisa Fain, a smart and kind seventh-generation Texan, who currently resides in New York. Fain told the Texanist that she had never attempted substituting melons in this recipe but thought it would be worth a try and graciously granted permission to share the formula, which he has altered for you.
Cantaloupe HONEYDEW Ice Cream
2 cups diced ripe cantaloupe HONEYDEW melon
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a blender, puree the cantaloupe HONEYDEW with 1/2 cup half-and-half. In a pot, cook the cantaloupe HONEYDEW puree with the cream and remaining half-and-half on medium heat until warm—do not let it come to a boil. Turn off the heat. Beat the eggs with the sugar, vanilla, lime juice, ginger, and salt. Stir into the eggs 1/2 cup of the warm liquid and then pour egg and cream mixture into the pot. On medium low, heat this mixture while stirring occasionally for five minutes or until it gets slightly thick. You’ll know it’s ready when it coats the back of your spoon. Cool in the refrigerator for four hours. Freeze and churn according to your ice-cream maker’s instructions. Enjoy.
The case of the long-lost recipe for the Sabine Valley Ice Cream Company’s tasty honeydew melon ice cream, while currently classified as cold, remains open. Thanks again for the great letter, Mr. Morgan, and good luck in the kitchen. The Texanist hopes the above recipe turns out well. And if it does, please let him know. It’s hot out and the Texanist can’t shake the thought of that cold and refreshing summertime treat.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.