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Scoop: She sampled ice cream at all 116 shops so you don't have to

Maria Finch Chandler's book traces the treat's history on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

Did you know there are 116 ice cream shops on the Cape and Islands?

That's a lot of flavor and a lot of terrain. But Maria Finch Chandler covered it all while researching her book, Cape Cod Cones.

She spent about two years interviewing shop owners and tracing the history of local ice cream, all the way back to the first parlor in Centerville which opened in 1874.

Patrick Flanary My first thought was, you cannot have possibly tried every flavor at every ice cream shop on the Cape and Islands. Or am I wrong? Did you do exactly that?

Maria Finch Chandler Well, I went to every ice cream shop on the Cape and Islands and I tried a lot of ice cream. I can't say I tried every single flavor at every single shop.

PF How much would you eat at each place?

MFC I tried to be a purist and then go on to the next shop, and I did a lot of interviews, sometimes six a day. There were some days I was pretty full. If the ice cream was really good, I couldn't help myself—I had to eat the whole thing.

PF So when you say interviews, you mean you spoke to some of the shop owners?

MFC Yes, I interviewed shop owners, some of the scoopers, some of the customers who were standing around. In the space of three months I got most of the interviews done. It was really amazing how gracious the shop owners were, and how they made time for me to tell their stories.

PF What got you thinking that there was a need for an in-depth book where every shop is chronicled in some fashion?

MFC I don't think there are that many places in the country that have so much ice cream to choose from. I traveled past these ice cream shops and thought, How does somebody know where to go if you've never been here before? And so that's really what the impetus to the book was. The shops are like strong little gems on a necklace of the Cape. And I'd never seen a comprehensive guide. It needed this sort of GPS of sorts to navigate the Cape Cod terrain.

PF And you call your book a field guide. It's got hours of operation, flavors, and more. What about rankings?

MFC There is an index in the back of the book, and also on each page, that does a sort of ranking based on customer ratings. But I don't personally rate them. One of the things that really did capture my attention in interviewing these people was the richness of their stories.

Sea Scoops is an ice cream boat out of West Falmouth. And they started in 2021 during COVID. Sherry Brown and her daughter-in-law Sierra were medical professionals working through COVID who wanted to have more time out on the water and a way to bring joy to the community.

Another one is Sweet Izzy in Harwich Port. They started in 2020. Michael and Elizabeth Doucette are natives to Harwich. Their shop is a small A-frame takeout window named after their daughter, Isabelle. Elizabeth had allergies and that ended up being the impetus for their shop, creating ice cream and toppings that are all vegan. It's the only all-vegan shop on the Cape. You'd never know that you weren't eating dairy, they've really nailed it.

There's a lot of really rich, interesting history behind some of these shops, and one of the big focuses of the book is zeroing in on some of those stories. Anybody can just pick up a book and go to an ice cream shop. But this is really designed to be more than that. It's really designed to explore Cape Cod through ice cream.

PF I don't want you to make any enemies here, but you must have a favorite out of 116 shops. Care to drop a name?

MFC I do get that question a lot. And I just have to say it's all about personal preference. I mean, everybody has their own subjective agenda.

PF Is there a flavor you're not going near despite who's serving it?

MFC I'm not a real lover of things like bubble gum that are super sweet, but I'll try anything. I tried lobster ice cream at at Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium of Falmouth. I think it's a butter-pecan base with buttered lobster mixed in, and it's a really unusual flavor. If I was a stranger to the Cape, I wouldn't miss it. It's one of those things to be experienced.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.