The Surprising Origin Story Of Rocky Road Ice Cream

The ice cream flavor Rocky Road has a rather complicated backstory, or rather, dueling backstories. As ice cream historian (now that's a sweet job!) Amy Ettinger told KQED, "It's very common in ice cream history to have these kinds of disputes," and references the fact that six different vendors claim to have debuted the ice cream cone at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

Perhaps the very first Rocky Road ice cream was the sundae described in a book called Rigby's Reliable Candy Teacher published in Topeka, Kansas in 1920. The sundae, itself called Rocky Road, began with a scoop of chocolate ice cream which was then topped with honey-flavored whipped cream, broken almond macaroons, pecans, walnuts, and a cherry. (No marshmallows.) The name seems to refer to the lumps and bumps created by the nuts, although the later origin stories take place during the Great Depression and indicate that "Rocky Road" was meant to describe the hard times everyone was experiencing.

There are actually two ice cream makers who claim to have been the first to create and market Rocky Road as we know it today, both of them based out of Oakland, California. One ice cream maker is the Bay Area mini-chain Fentons Creamery, while the other is the by now national maker Dreyer's (aka Edy's on the East Coast). While Mashed did not speak with anyone at Fentons Creamery, we were able to get Dreyer's side of the story from associate brand manager Julianne Feder.

Whoever invented Rocky Road, it's still good stuff

According to Quartz, the Fentons story goes that in 1929 the creamery employed a candymaker named George Farren. Farren blended a candy bar containing both nuts and marshmallows into a batch of ice cream, thus inventing not only a brand-new flavor but the whole concept of mix-ins to which Cold Stone Creamery would later owe its existence.

Well, it seems that Farren was also friends with two men also in the ice cream and candy business: William Dreyer and Joseph Edy. As Julianne Feder tells the story, Dreyer was the ice cream maker and Edy the candymaker, and they created their version of Rocky Road (also in 1929) as "something uplifting for their customers" after the stock market crash left the country in such bad shape. She supplied the detail that, "Dreyer took big full marshmallows from Edy and cut them up into perfect bite size pieces with his wife's pinking shears, crushed some toasted nuts and mixed them both into his rich chocolate ice cream." Fentons favored walnuts, while Dreyer's used almonds.

No matter who invented Rocky Road, it was, as Feder says, "one of the first ever ice creams with mix-ins." Feder added, "In a time when the main flavors were vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, Rocky Road was revolutionary and changed the ice cream world as we know it." For that, we are truly grateful to Dreyer, Edy, Farren, the Fentons, candy teacher Rigby, and anyone else who may have played a part in its creation.