Back in high school, there was a place many of us went on Friday nights after football games or a movie at the Paramount, a place called Hopper’s where you sat in the privacy of your car and got curb service burgers and malts. It was a great place to take a date if you were short of money, and at seventeen that was most of the time. Hopper’s Drive-In started out in Baton Rouge as a family-run ice cream shop in the late 1940s, but by the time we got to high school the owners had opened two or three drive-ins and expanded the menu to include hamburgers, fries and milkshakes. The taste that lingers in my memory of those salad days is not the oniony flavor of hamburger or the super sweetness of a hot fudge sundae but the simple malted goodness of their chocolate milkshakes delivered by a college kid in white shirt and black bow tie running with a metal tray that hooked to the driver’s side window opening. Those long ago Friday night milkshakes define for me not only a time of life, but the flavor of chocolate at its best.
And wasn’t it great in those days to have no notion of things like calories, fat grams and cholesterol? Oh sure, our modern understanding of the food we eat has multiple benefits, but who can deny it has badly shaken the spontaneity of pleasurable eating and drinking. Sometimes health-conscious eating is a crashing bore, and that coming from one who doesn’t drink a glass of Perrier without studying the label. Despite that, sitting here lost in thoughts of a bygone Hopper’s and their chocolate malts I practically drool with the desire for a big thirty-two ounce stainless steel cup of just mixed ice cream, milk and chocolate syrup.
Walgreens is currently running a television commercial in which they claim credit for “inventing” the first chocolate malt. Some might question whether that claim is altogether true, but it is a fact that in 1922 a distracted Walgreens soda jerk ‘accidentally’ added two scoops of vanilla ice cream to the standard malted milk drink and came up with what they called a milkshake—a recipe of milk, ice cream, chocolate syrup and malt powder.
The word ‘milkshake’ was coined way back in 1885 but used at the time to describe an alcoholic drink of whiskey and eggs. It wasn’t until 1900 that a milkshake became a hand-shaken mixture of crushed ice and milk, sugar, and flavorings. The Hamilton Beach Cyclone drink mixer with its spindle and metal cup appeared in 1911 and soon became the iconic milkshake mixer. It was then that ice cream got added to the mix bringing the milkshake closer to what we know today. The Walgreens malted milkshake coincided with the 1922 invention of the electric blender, a device that eventually brought milkshakes into the home.
Certainly there are a thousand and one places famous for making the ‘best’ chocolate milkshakes and we all have our favorites. Unfortunately, for many of us the chance to go back again to a favorite drive-in or malt shop from younger days is now nothing more than a nostalgic dream. Still, there are places that serve what some call world-class milkshakes, and if you’re lucky there’s one not far from home. There’s never a time that I skip the chance to have a chocolate milkshake at Johnny Rockets when shopping at the Mall of Millennia in Orlando, Florida. It’s a drive of a couple of hours, but shopping sometimes requires it and I can write off the long drive knowing that an almost Hopper’s chocolate milkshake is on the lunch menu.