A tasty search: What's behind New England's love of black raspberry ice cream

A scoop of black raspberry ice cream from Gracie’s in Somerville's Union Square.
A scoop of black raspberry ice cream from Gracie’s in Somerville's Union Square.

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's Saturday morning newsletter, The Weekender. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

The origins of New England’s regional cuisines can often seem obvious. Look no further than the sea to understand the copious offerings of seafood at our restaurants, from Massachusetts to Maine. Others require some deeper digging. (Did you know Vermont’s maple syrup industry has roots in the Civil War-era abolitionist movement?)

But it was only recently that I noticed that many New Englanders have a taste for a specific ice cream flavor: Black raspberry (often dotted with chocolate chips.) When I worked at a local grocery store in college, I sold more pints of Graeter’s black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream than I did any other flavor, and almost every buyer made a point to tell me it was their favorite. Could it simply be a coincidence, or is this affinity rooted in history? I had to find out.

Black raspberries do grow wild in New England. But they’re notoriously hard to find, and only available for a short season. Still, their sweet, punchy flavor has captivated many, particularly Aaron Cohen, the owner of Gracie’s Ice Cream in Somerville’s Union Square.

“I started making black raspberry chip ice cream because when I was 17, I worked at an ice cream store that had it and I couldn’t eat enough of it,” said Cohen. Gracie’s marketing and social media leans heavily into Cohen’s love of black raspberry. “It’s the best flavor,” Cohen said, “And it’s our most popular flavor.”

Why do people love it so much here? Well, there are a few theories.

Millie Rahn is an ethnographer and folklorist who studies foodways — the way certain foods move through cultures and countries. She can tell you how pizza was popularized in Massachusetts decades ago by Italian — but also Greek — immigrants, what ancient superstitions exist around berry picking and, of course, why New Englanders have an affinity for ice cream.

But when it comes to black raspberry, she thinks its popularity is a relatively modern development.

“Traditionally, we ate very seasonally,” said Rahn. “So we would wait until that time when the berries came out.”

But in the age of family-run ice cream parlors and farm stands, Rahn says “the rarer, most unique offering you [had] made the place very desirable.” Rare, short-season black raspberry flavored ice cream could have very well been quite the hit at a local farm stand, inspiring generations of love for the flavor.

In my search for answers, I also heard from Gus Rancatore, owner of the Cambridge-based ice cream shop Toscanini’s. He says black raspberry ice cream seems to be most popular in Vermont, where black raspberry "creemees,” similar to Italian semifreddo, are popular. He also noted that it’s not uncommon for New Englanders to grow up with berry plants in their backyard. The flavor could evoke all sorts of memories.

“A friend in western Maine has a backyard full of raspberries and blackberries,” Rancatore said. “Visiting is a happy high point of any trip north and makes you imagine a happy bear’s life.”

What’s your black raspberry theory? Email us at and let us know!

P.S.— New newsletter alert! Our soon-to-launch Newcomer’s Field Guide to Boston will help you navigate everything from the MBTA to the local restaurants scene to our ever-changing weather. Forward this to a friend, family member, coworker who’s new (or new-ish) to the city so they can sign up today — and then get ready to join them on a bunch of new adventures while they explore.

Sign up for the WBUR Weekender


Hanna Ali Associate Producer
Hanna Ali is an associate producer for newsletters at WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live