Thursday, August 05, 1999

Everything just peachy at Graeter's




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The woman's voice was agitated, her distress obvious and genuine. “Something very disturbing is happening,” she said. “I am hoping you will help.” I cradled the telephone receiver closer to my ear. I could hear her take a ragged breath.

        “They are ...” Her voice broke, and she was unable to speak for a moment. Regaining her composure, she continued.

        “Graeter's,” and here she paused dramatically, “has no coconut ice cream.” Stunned, I pressed her for details. But it's August, I said incredulously. Surely you are mistaken.

        “I am telling you. None of the stores have it. None.”

        That is a serious accusation, I said. And this is a company that has been doing business here since 1870. Do you have proof?

Coconut month delayed
        All she could tell me was that on Aug. 1, when she showed up at her neighborhood Graeter's with an ice chest and a big wad of cash at the door, she was told that the ice cream company is “putting off coconut month.”

        Until when?

        “They wouldn't say,” she said tearfully.

        For nearly 10 years, this company has designated August as its Coconut Month. It has become a tradition. Not to mention an over-the-counter PMS medication. Clearly, it is irresponsible to withdraw this rare commodity without notice and without a very good reason.

        I placed a call to Richard Graeter, the company's executive vice president. What do you have to say for yourself?

        “Oh, boy,” he said. “I knew this would be trouble. I tried to tell them.”

        A fourth-generation Graeter, he said he argued with senior executives (his father and aunt). “Coconut is not our most popular flavor,” he said, “but the people who like it are militant.” His own wife, who is pregnant, is a little honked off. She not only argued to keep coconut in August, but has been lobbying to make coconut ice cream a year-round flavor.

Blame Georgia peaches
        It is not his fault, Mr. Graeter insisted. “It's the peaches,” he said. “The peaches are just too good this year. We decided to extend Peach Month.” More than 35,000 fresh peaches will be shipped from Georgia to Graeter's Reading Road confectionary. There, the peaches will be blanched, skinned and pitted.

        “By hand,” Mr. Graeter said. And as each crate arrives, they are “carefully monitored.” Where was this summer job when I was a kid? Monitoring peaches indeed.

        “Really. Peaches are definitely a crop that can vary. This year and last, they've been just right,” he said. Frozen peaches “just don't taste the same and the chunks are too big” and peaches shipped from too far away lose flavor. “When it's good, you have to make the best of it.” He figures they'll sell about 3,000 gallons over two months' time.

        “We make about a thousand gallons of each of our most popular monthly flavors,” he said. “Coconut chip, cookies and cream, strawberry chip, coconut and pumpkin.”

        Wait a minute. Coconut is in the top five?

        “Right.”

        You mean, I said with my pudgy fingers crossed hopefully, coconut is not completely off the line-up for this year?

        “Of course not,“ he said. “My wife would never forgive me. We are moving it to September.”

        I am afraid to ask the next question. Something has to give. There are only 12 months in the year and if peach is getting two of them, this means one of the monthly flavors will disappear.

        Please, I said, I am begging you. Don't let it be pumpkin.

        “No,” Mr. Graeter said. “We will not be carrying macadamia nut brittle.”

        Big deal. Macadamia nut brittle has never cured a single case of PMS in my circle of friends. On top of that, my HMO considers it an experimental flavor.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she can be heard regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

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