It's a New Zealand icon and deservedly so. Since my boyhood, hokey pokey icecream has provided me with iced confection satisfaction.

Time can put a glossy sheen on memories, I know, but some of my earliest were of, I think, Blue Moon or Peter Pan hokey pokey icecream and it was a goldmine in a cone.

The icecream itself was creamy and smooth and the hokey pokey presented itself in three desirable stages: crisp, slightly chewy and softly melting. It's the same threesome that renders a pav perfect.

But historically I feel hokey pokey icecream hit a bad patch. It was probably in the eighties that the chunks of hokey pokey became more uniform in size and shape and the aforementioned three stages were a goner (at least in the mass-produced versions).


More recently, a number of smaller high-end producers have recreated the goldmines of yore but it is one particular outlet which has brought all the old memories back to me. In fact, a daily visit became the norm over the summer holidays.

I visited a gelato shop in Napier early in the holidays and I took a gamble. Normally, in such a shop, I would choose more exotic flavours (green apple, dark plum, coconut, duck surprise) but the hokey pokey gelato on display caught my eye, lured me.

There, before my very eyes, were the three stages. They were clearly visible so I gambled by ordering the ordinary.

I was richly rewarded. Not only were the three stages there in abundance but the crisp stage was exemplary; it was not tooth-breaking hard but tinkly, delicate, fragile.

In this way it was similar to a perfect creme brulee, the top of which, when tapped with a dessertspoon, should shatter with a mere tinkle; it should not be ice-skating-rink-thick.

And that hint of burn in the hokey pokey was perfect. Those who have made caramel by heating sugar (or sugar with a little water added) will know the drill. Cook it too little and it is pointlessly flavourless; cook it too much and it becomes bitter-burnt.

Get it just right and it is sublime. This gelato shop got the cooking just right as well as the hocus pocus of the spectacular chemical change that occurs when baking soda is added to the hot golden syrup and sugar.

On one of my regular visits I was about 30m from the shop door and could smell hokey pokey cooking and wafting along the street. From the aroma, I knew it was just reaching that perilous point of delight or debacle.

"Are you making the hokey pokey yourselves?" I asked when I walked in. And they were. As soon as the young woman had scooped my cone, she was back to the kitchen to take the mixture from the heat just before it reached the bitter-burnt stage. Exemplary culinary skills.

This Kiwi icon's origins sit somewhere in the forties or fifties. A number of companies have been suggested as the inventors/creators including Tip Top (Auckland), Meadow Gold (Papatoetoe), Peter Pan (Waipukurau) and Newjoy (Dunedin).

Newjoy used broken bits from Crunchie bars being made at the nearby Cadbury factory and they were soon copied by another Dunedin icecream maker, Crystal.

To me it matters not who you believe; what matters is that it was created and pretty soon earned iconic status. These days it is the second biggest-selling flavour in New Zealand (after vanilla).

We've come a long way since my very earliest memories of cone icecream, the days when vanilla icecream was called "plain".

And the gold-studded icon is clearly in safe hands. I have been won back.

- Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.