Photograph by Flickr user gabriela talarico
Photograph by Flickr user gabriela talarico

Ice Cream or Not Ice Cream?

Photograph by Flickr user gabriela talarico
Photograph by Flickr user gabriela talarico

As we plod through the heat wave of the summer, few things are more refreshing than an ice cream treat. The biggest problem is getting it from the store to the house before it melts! But if you look in the supermarket aisle full of frozen treats, the products range from popsicles to ice cream to generic "artificially-flavored frozen non-dairy dessert," whatever that means. Ice cream by any other name would taste as sweet, right? Actually, what you get in most frozen treats is standardized by how they are labeled. You should know what you're getting in ice cream, ice milk, sherbet, frozen custard, sorbet, etc. Note: these definitions and usages are for the United States only. Your ice cream may vary.

In the United States, ice cream must contain 10% milk fat, plus nonfat milk solids that bring the solid milk content to 20%. There are some exceptions to these standards when the content of "bulky flavorings" (such as chocolate) are within certain parameters. Ice cream must contain no more than 1.4% egg yolk. If the content goes beyond that, the product is labeled frozen custard. Ice cream doesn't even have to use cream, as long as the dairy products used fit the milk fat and nonfat milk solid standards. The dairy ingredients may be milk, evaporated milk, skim milk, butter, butter oil, buttermilk, or cream in various forms.

rainbow sherbet

Photograph by Flickr user Carr23.

Sherbet is a fruit-based frozen dairy dessert, which must have between 1% and 2% milk fat, and the same amount of nonfat milk solids. The total solid milk content should be between 2% and 5%. Fruit content in sherbet must be 10% for most fruits, including tomato and rhubarb, 6% for berries, and 2% for citrus fruits. Have you ever encountered tomato or rhubarb sherbet?

Mellorine is an ice cream substitute that I'd never heard of until today. The USDA standards for mellorine are that it contain pasteurized milk, but the fat content may come from an animal or vegetable source besides milk. The fat content must be 6% and the protein content must be at least 2.7%. Once again, these standards may be adjusted slightly to account for the composition of the flavoring ingredients. A federal court just last year said mellorine should not be classified as a dairy productfor the purpose of import tariffs.

Morris Ice Cream Van

Photograph by Flickr user Danny McL.
Ice milk standards state that the product contains no less than 3.25% milk fatand no more than 0.6% vegetable gum or gelatin. Courts have held that products named "Icy Kream" and "Ice Cremo" were misleading when attached to desserts that only met the ingredient standards for ice milk.

Frozen Custard Diner

Photograph by Flickr user Jeremy Brooks.
Frozen custard must meet the same milk content standards as ice cream, but custard contains more than the 1.4% egg yolk limitfor ice cream. Frozen custard may also be labeled as "French ice cream."

The Meadows

Photograph by Flickr user Alex Valli.
Frozen yogurt has no particular labeling standards in the United States. For a product to be called yogurt, the National Yogurt Association says it must contain two strains of beneficial bacteria: streptococcus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus. However, the cultures do not have to be live -they can be killed by heat treatment or, of course, freezing.

Strawberry Swirl

Photograph by Flickr user Joshua Zamrycki.
Soft serve is ice cream, ice milk, or other frozen dessert that is stirred while being frozen and usually has air whipped into it, making it softer and easier to eat. The amount of air may range from nothing to 60%depending on the vendor. Too much air may make a cone look huge, but it also causes the soft serve to melt too fast. If a product is advertised as "soft serve ice cream," "soft serve frozen custard," etc. it must conform to the standards of that product, minus the air.

Strawberry sorbet with Gingersnaps

Photograph by Flickr user starleigh.
Sorbet is a frozen dessert made from sugar and water and flavored with fruit juice, liqueur, or wineand contains no dairy products at all. That makes it similar to what we refer to in the U.S. as slushes, popsicles, and Italian ice (which only sometimes contain any real fruit juice). In normal usage, the term sorbet is reserved for a fancier dessert.

Gelato.

Photograph by Flickr user Lucee.

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. However, the term is used for Italian-style ice cream, which is served warmer and just slightly melted. That's good, because ice cream in Italy is churned more slowly and contains less air than American-style ice cream. It also contains less milk fat, so the label gelato is often used for a frozen dessert that does not quite meet U.S. milk content standards.

Guess which one is mine

Photograph by Flickr user Tilemahos Efthimiadis.


Frappe is a word that simply means "chilled or partly frozen." As a product, it is a term used for sherbet, milkshake, and iced coffee -and possibly other products. If you aren't sure of what you are ordering, you should ask.

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8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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