Even with our blessed trade winds filling sails and contributing to the good vibes year-round, there’s still one unmistakable fact about summers in the Caribbean that anyone visiting between now and late-September would be wise to consider: it’s hot!
Now, it’s not Africa-hot, or the 100-degree pressure-cooker that is New York City in mid-August, but you definitely work up more of a sweat adventuring around the region this time of year. To date, we’ve provided lots of good drink suggestions to help you keep cool in the Caribbean, but today we’re setting the dial all the way at cold… as in ice-cold, super-yummy ice cream!
Now, as warm as our islands can get, it should come as no surprise that the Caribbean produces some of the world’s very best ice cream, with a wide range of tantalizingly exotic local flavors cooling hearts up and down the island chain for hundreds of years. As a native Crucian, I’m proud to say that one of those very best Caribbean ice creams is St. Croix’s own Armstrong’s.
As you can see on the sign atop their shop in Frederiksted, Armstrong’s has been producing homemade ice cream in St. Croix for 112 years. During my childhood in St. Croix, we always had a tub of another local favorite, Island Dairies, in the freezer. That was good, but better-suited to everyday use, like a favorite pair of jeans.
Armstrong’s, on the other hand, was special; more of a once-a-week treat…the Sunday best to those favorite jeans.
In those days, the Armstrong family ran the business from their home, bringing their special treats to the masses by way of a light-green truck, “Quality at Its Best” inscribed on the side. Anyone and everyone on the island knew that truck and looked forward to cooling treats inside.
The big reason why is also right on the sign – Armstrong’s serves real homemade ice cream here, the kind with big chunks of good stuff conspicuously wedged into the cold and creamy treasures, the better to let the natural flavors shine in your cone or cup.
And what wonderfully natural flavors they are! You might be able to get almond, banana, butter pecan, cherry vanilla and rum raisin ice cream just about anywhere. If you’re in the Caribbean, you can probably find guava, mango, passion fruit, or our Dad’s favorite, soursop, too.
But tell me, how easily can you get your hands on gooseberry ice cream? This is by far and away the most popular Armstrong’s flavor among local Crucians, the tart seasonal fruit a bit of an acquired taste for those weened on more typically sweet ice creams in the States and elsewhere over the years.
But this is St. Croix, and if you want to get a real taste of the island, Armstrong’s is a must.
Here, we make all our ice cream fresh daily by ourselves using real fruits grown right here in St. Croix, so you can’t beat it.
So says Etty Armstrong, whose husband, Cedric, is the latest Armstrong to carry on the family tradition. His grandmother originated the Armstrong’s Homemade Ice Cream business in 1900, and it is primarily her recipes that Cedric and Etty still follow to this day.
Now, there’s hardly a bad day to visit Armstrong’s (except Monday’s when they’re closed), but one day in particular is very, very special indeed. I’m talking about the last Sunday right before Christmas, the only day of the year when you can get guavaberry ice cream at Armstrong’s!
The family also serves up some guavaberry during the Ag Fair in February, but the pre-Christmas event is legendary. I haven’t been back home for Christmas since Armstrong’s opened the location pictured above in 1996, but I can imagine the line snakes out the door on guavaberry Sunday, with traffic backed up all along Centerline Road – a true Crucian confusion certainly worth the trouble.
Armstrong’s is open Tuesday to Saturday from 7am to 7pm. Sunday hours are 11am to 7pm. In addition to ice cream, Armstrong’s also offers breakfast and deli treats. Breakfast is served 7am to 10:30am Tuesday-Saturday. On Monday’s Etty and Cedric take a break, and who can blame them? It must take a lot to make the world’s best ice cream!