The other day, my sister Kath sent me a piece she’d seen on Serious Eats in which the the writer decried the disappearance of chocolate sprinkles. First off, on behalf of Kathleen and myself, if you’re a New Englander, there’s no such thing as chocolate sprinkles. They’re jimmies. And writer Keith Gandolfi, who grew up in a Worcester suburb eating ice cream at Friendly’s, must surely know this.
Perhaps he was just trying to make himself understood by readers who didn’t have the pleasure of growing up in New England. Possibly. Although in my opinion, he could have explained jimmies right upfront, therefore educating the world at large.
Or he could have been avoiding a bit of feared unpleasantness. After all, for a while now there has been a completely over the top meme about the name jimmies being racist, a referral to Jim Crow laws, an indication that the term is used in New England because we’re way too white.
There are plenty of PC things that I do go along with.
Although the word was quite popular when I was growing up, saying “gyp” or “gypped” to mean cheated out of something has long been expunged from my vocabulary. And “paddy wagon”? That sure seems slur-ish, no? And then there’s “Indian-giver.” Be gone, offensive terms.
Not sure where I stand on “Dutch treat.” It doesn’t come up all that often. And there’s a newer meaning than paying your own way, as I found from The Google: it’s a strain of marijuana popular in Amsterdam.
But if I want jimmies on my ice cream cone, by gar, I’ll ask for jimmies.
But I digress.
The point I want to make here is that my sister and I are completely with writer Keith Pandolfi in his scorn for rainbow sprinkles on ice cream.
Rainbow sprinkles (which are not jimmies, by the way: jimmies are chocolate) belong on cupcakes, not ice cream.
Unfortunately, Keith’s local ice cream spots – he now lives in Brooklyn – only serve rainbow sprinkles.
I suspect that in a blind taste test, I might not be able to distinguish rainbow sprinkles from jimmies. But, unless they’re decorating a cupcake, I want nothing to do with them. Similarly, I prefer nonpareils with white nonpareils on them, not the rainbow variety.
Anyway, here’s Keith - for whom “an ice cream cone without chocolate sprinkles isn't an ice cream cone at all” - on the joys of jimmies.
I loved the added texture the sprinkles provided, the waxy exterior giving way to a cool and crunchy interior; I loved how the sprinkles completely covered my cone, as if it had been encased in Vesuvian ash. I loved biting through the scattered coating to reveal the vanilla or, occasionally, coffee ice cream below. I loved licking them off, slowly and methodically, savoring their cocoa flavor, until each and every one was gone.
This is as fine a description of what jimmies bring to the ice cream cone experience as any I’ve ever read. Okay, I haven’t actually read any other descriptions. Still, this one is excellent.
How did it happen that, over time, rainbow sprinkles replaced jimmies? Was it because some jimmies producers decided to scrimp on the cocoa, making them less appealing? The thinking on the switch to rainbows might well be that, if the topping was going to be bland tasting, useful only for the crunch factor, it might as well be colorful?
Kathleen and I both part company with Keith on his fondness for jimmies on softserve:
Their crunch was particularly essential atop ice-cream-truck soft-serve; to me, soft-serve without a healthy coating of sprinkles is just a structureless blob.
No, no, a thousand times no. I’m not a major softserve fan. I scream for ice cream. But if you’re going to get something chocolate and crunchy on your softserve, mysister speaks for both of us when she notes that Keith Pandolfi:
…doesn’t mention that chocolate dip on soft serve was better than sprinkles any day.
Amen to that.
The Serious Eats article was informative on a couple of matters.
First, Keith wrote about a fellow foodie, Stella Parks, who makes her own jimmies. There are plenty of things I can’t imagine making at home, and if I had to come up with a list, jimmies would surely be on it. (Kath tells me that there are also folks out there who make their own Oreos. Why?)
Second, courtesy of Parks, he offers a wonderful history of rainbow sprinkles:
…the brightly colored confections appeared as far back as the 1800s, evolving within the pharmaceutical industry as a way to dispense drugs. Since it was unsafe to have a patient dose out a milligram of, say, cocaine for himself, pharmacists would either sprinkle liquid medication over nonpareils and toss them until the drug was fully absorbed, or, later, use the nonpareils as a candy coating, rather like medicinal Jordan almonds, which also made less palatable drugs easier to swallow. Dyes were often added to the coating as a way to visually distinguish between different types of medicine. "As near as I can tell," Stella says, "the rainbow sprinkles we eat today came about as a way for medical dragée manufacturers to stay afloat, as scientific advances like encapsulation made the former methods obsolete."
Who knew? Other than Stella Parks, that is.
It is, of course, still possible to get good, chocolate-tasting jimmies without having to DIY them. Between the article and the comments, you’ll find a number of options. I certainly didn’t know that King Arthur Flour – which is, after all, my flour – also makes chocolate sprinkles. Alas, they call them chocolate sprinkles, not jimmies, even though King Arthur Flour was founded, and spent 200 years, in Boston before upping-stakes and moving to Vermont.
I have a couple of suggestions for Keith.
One, when he’s out for an ice cream cone, he should bring a small container of jimmies with him. Or he can move back to New England. I don’t know about Friendly’s, but you can get jimmies at J.P. Lick’s. Admittedly, I think they’ve fallen into the chocolate sprinkles trap. But whatever you want to call them, there’s nothing like an ice cream cone dipped in them to make your day.
As for rainbow sprinkles: cupcakes only, please.