Ice Cream hits the streets of New York

By Laura Brose

Part 2: Doing The Hokey-Pokey: The Individually Wrapped Ice Cream is Born

Italians emigrated across Europe and to the USA, often working as street vendors where ever they took up residence, hence the public image of Italian organ grinders on the streets of old New York. Ice cream vendors of Italian extraction cried, "Ecco un poco, che un poco" (Here's a little for so little [money]), and this cry became distorted by non-Italians into the words “hokey pokey”. “In New York and other American cities—where the custom had migrated by the mid-1800s—the Penny-Ice Men were known as Hokey pokey Men”. (How Products Are Made, vol. 6, Ice Cream Cones)

Some of them sold Italian Ices or gelato in the tiny glass “penny lick” goblets, but a distinct new form of ice cream in individual servings began to be sold by these street vendors: squares of dense, hard frozen ice cream, sliced off of a molded brick, each slice wrapped in paper. This was usually Neapolitan ‘striped’ ice cream, and this type of ice cream itself became known as hokey pokey. (Liddell, C., and Weir, R., 1995, Frozen Deserts, St. Martin’s Press, Griffin imprint, NY, p.29.) “Nowadays the word is used in New Zealand for a sort of crunchy toffee bar, and also for ice cream containing little pieces of such toffee. ---An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 160)” (Lynne Olver 2004, Food Timeline, “history notes: ice cream and ice” updated 3 August 2006)

There are only a few short steps forward from the hokey-pokey to the more modern varieties of square-shaped mass produced ice cream treats, such as chocolate covered ice cream bars and ice cream sandwiches.