Here's some advice about setting a scene that will take you right back to yesteryear.
Once the time and date are set, put everyone in an ice-cream party mood with an old-time invitation. Send an old-fashioned calling card, or set the theme with a simple, traditional invitation using nostalgic motifs such as antique cartoon sketches or soda shop images.
Bring the party to life with fun flair. "The key is using old-fashioned glassware to pull it together," Chicago area party planner Anne Malone says. Try local rental stores for old-fashioned ice-cream tables, wire stools, and tableware. If you want to buy your supplies, most housewares stores carry antique-looking lines as well. Have fun picking out a variety of glassware: tulip sundaes, tall sodas, banana boats, and parfaits. Make sure to stock up on authentic long spoons, too.
Set out a couple of large tables for an ice-cream bar and to serve beverages, Malone suggests. She recommends using small tables for yard seating.
Or try scattering a few little red wagons turned into mini ice-cream stations for the kids throughout the yard, and set up one buffet table for the adults. If you are having a big group, "put your toppings on a separate table to keep the traffic flowing," suggests Kristen Herzog, special events expert for ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's. Guests may also enjoy picnicking on a few tablecloths spread beneath shady trees.
Accentuate with linens. For a garden-style ice-cream social, use pretty pastel florals or antique lace cloths. Top them with pitchers of bouquets on the bar, and parfait glasses with flowers at the smaller seating tables. Or choose linens patterns such as gingham, barbershop stripes, or patriotic red, white, and blue prints. "Red linen with white stars and blue napkins is very fun," Malone says.
Bring out baskets to hold silverware, napkins, and scoops. They accentuate the casual picnic feel and make it easier to organize. Look for tray-style baskets as well as large bucket shapes to add a variety of heights and shapes to your table.
Keep bees and other bugs at bay by having lots of sponges on hand and following the outdoor party rule: Wipe often, and clear early. Galvanized or brightly painted metal pails are a festive way to store soapy water. Always stow trash in tightly sealed garbage cans placed well away from the party. Keep bug spray handy but away from the food.
Figure out how much will feed your crowd with this rule of thumb: A quart container of ice cream yields about 8 scoops, 1/4 cup of sauce goes on each sundae, and everyone will want a big dollop of whipped dessert topping to finish it off. That means, to serve 30 people two scoops of ice cream, you should have at least 2 gallons of ice cream, 7-1/2 cups of special sauces or sprinkles, and three to four 8-ounce containers of whipped dessert topping.
Make homemade ice cream the day before, or simply buy your favorite flavors a few days ahead. Or, buy by mail: Many dairies ship their delectables packed in dry ice and coolers and ready to go. If you are strapped for freezer space, call a local dairy, ice-cream parlor, or rental service to rent a cooler for the occasion. Dave Smetter of ice-cream manufacturer Well's Blue Bunny recommends that you set out all your supplies and treats first, then bring out the ice cream right before party time. "It should be the last thing you do, then people can jump right in to create," he says.
Keep the ice cream cool during the festivities by presenting the cartons in a metal container or cooler. Look for decorative icing buckets, preferably cylindrical because their shape will enable you to fit more flavors in the cooler. "There are really great galvanized metal, hammered tin, and copper tubs available now," Malone says. If you are using a basic cooler, Malone suggests wrapping it in a tablecloth or other fabric for a more elegant look. Line a metal container with dry ice, but check the ice cream often to make sure it doesn't overfreeze. You may even want to take it out every once in a while to keep it soft enough for scooping. Call ice-cream parlors or specialty ice houses for your dry ice supply.
Try another serving option by piling regular ice in the cooler instead. It's easy, but not as effective as dry ice for long term chilling. Herzog says it's best to place plastic wrap or a towel between the ice and the ice cream to prevent soggy servings. "You could wrap it in an ice pack to help it stay cold as well," she says. "And make sure to keep the ice cream in its carton when you serve it." Refill the tub with ice as needed.
Look into specialty food shops for classic waffle and sugar cones. Herzog suggests ordering a supply of fresh waffle cones from a local ice-cream store. "They smell so good, there is nothing like it," she says.
How long have people been craving ice cream? Centuries. Here are some sweet ice-cream facts:*
--*Used with permission from Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream and International Dairy Foods Association's "The Latest Scoop."