a/k/a Black (or Brown) Cows — Perfect for Summer Holidays
OK, we’re basically talking ice cream sodas here. Black Cows (Root Beer Floats) are usually made with root beer and vanilla ice cream. But change the soda to cola or orange, and the ice cream to chocolate or something else, and you’ve got same concept, different flavor.
You probably don’t need a recipe for this dish. Still, I bet it’s been awhile since you’ve had one.
Remember how good it was? With Memorial Day coming up this weekend, maybe it’s time to lay in some root beer and ice cream — and brush up on your float-making skills.
Recipe: Root Beer Floats
When I was growing up, Black Cows were always the dessert for the big summer holidays — Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. Which makes sense, because they’re particularly appealing when the weather is hot.
Black Cows taste best made with a full-flavored vanilla ice cream and robust, sugared root beer. Yes, I know how many calories are in sugared soft drinks. But there is a flavor difference. I rarely consume soda, and when I do, I usually opt for diet. But with Black Cows? I want the full flavor of the real thing. Besides, these are an occasional treat.
Use tall glasses or voluminous mugs to serve your Black Cows. They are easiest to consume if you provide a drinking straw and long-handled spoon (like an iced tea spoon). This recipe serves 4, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare. You can easily adjust quantities to serve more or fewer people.
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream (less if you prefer; see Notes)
- 4 bottles of chilled root beer (see Notes)
- whipped cream for garnish (optional but nice)
- maraschino cherry for garnish (optional but nice)
- Scoop about a cup of ice cream into a tall glass or mug.
- Fill glass with root beer. You usually have to do this in stages, so that the foam from the root beer has time to diminish. If you have root beer left in the bottle (you usually will), serve the remainder with the Black Cow (this can be added to the float as it is consumed).
- Garnish if you like with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
- Serve with a straw and a long-handled spoon.
- You might want to put out the ingredients and just let everyone assemble this float on their own — it’s the fastest, easiest way.
- A cup of ice cream is a pretty hefty serving. You may wish to reduce this somewhat, but occasionally it’s nice to overindulge.
- Same deal with the root beer — a full 12 ounces is more than you really need, but a bit extra is nice.
- There are some terrific boutique root beers out there. But in this recipe, their flavor just gets lost in the ice cream. So I would suggest using whatever mass-market brand you happen to like best. I generally use A&W. Although it isn’t as deeply flavored as some (and is a bit sweet), it’s the root beer of my youth.
- Regional names for Root Beer Floats vary. In most places, “Black Cow” means vanilla ice cream and root beer. But in some locales, this float is a “Brown Cow.” In yet other places, chocolate ice cream replaces vanilla in a Brown Cow.
- And in a few other areas, only “Root Beer Floats” contain root beer. “Black Cows” and “Brown Cows” are made with cola.
- Other popular soda flavors for ice cream floats include ginger age, orange, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, and grape. And probably about anything else you can imagine.
- Originally, ice cream sodas were made with plain soda water (seltzer); syrup was added as flavoring. Indeed, today when you order a Chocolate Ice Cream Soda, what you may receive is chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, and plain soda — topped with whipped cream and a cherry.
- Soda water was once sold primarily by pharmacies (which is one reason they used to have soda fountains). A glass of plain, unflavored fizzy water was “2 cents plain” in days of yore.
- Why pharmacies? Because soda water was considered a high-powered cure that required regulation (like alcohol). Many areas that banned the sale of alcohol on Sundays adopted the same rule for soda water. So no ice cream sodas on Sundays!
- Pharmacies adapted by serving ice cream (that’s food, right?) with whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, maybe some chopped nuts — and no soda. Which they called the ice cream sundae (because it was designed to be sold on Sunday).
- Or at least that’s what Wikipedia suggests. Other sources dispute this story. But it does seem that, back in the day, many older folks got upset when “craven youth” gathered to slurp down that fizzy water in ice cream sodas.
- No one really knows who invented the ice cream soda. It may have been Robert M. Green, who served them during the 1874 sesquicentennial celebration in Philadelphia. But many others claimed to have originated it, including Fred Sanders, Philip Mohr, and George Guy. Whoever it was, he has our thanks.
- Although the basic Black Cow is suitable for all ages, there are also alcoholic versions. Some people add a touch of bourbon. Others make a seriously alcoholic drink, generally using some combination of Coca-Cola, Kahlua, half-and-half, and maybe Galliano. I enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time, but I’ll pass on all of these.
Summer Is (Almost) Here!
“What a great dessert!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she polished off her Black Cow.
“A nice segue to the warm weather months,” I agreed.
“Speaking of which, what’s on tap for the blog this summer?”
Funny she should ask.
For most of us, summer means a more casual lifestyle, with plenty of picnics, cookouts, and other outdoor activities. Maybe some long weekends! And when the living is easy, we sometimes want a nice cool drink to savor.
So starting next week, we’ll be inaugurating the Summer Sippin’ Series here on Kitchen Riffs. We’ll kick it off with a post on Cocktail Basics, covering the hows and whys of mixing drinks. Later that week we’ll do a post about one of today’s most popular cocktails, the Mojito. Then each week through Labor Day, we’ll feature a different drink (though we’ll also still have lots of food-only posts).
We’ll highlight several of the tall cool ones we typically associate with warm weather. And we’ll do some Tiki drinks — complete with little umbrellas.
“Tiki drinks!” exclaimed Mrs K R. “I can’t wait!”
You may also enjoy reading about:
French Potato Salad
American (Mayonnaise) Potato Salad
Potato Salad Basics
Barbecued Pork Steaks
Now I want to get in my car and head to Costco for that CASE of Fitz's Root Beer I passed on yesterday. We shall partake in root beer floats this weekend. Love the pics!
Ooh I love ice cream sodas and it's been so, so, long since I've had one. I loved it when they would foam up the way they do. It's kind of a firm foam. Hmm, I may have to make one today. That sounds good.
Thanks for reminding me about this oldie but goodie!
Hi Kelly, Fitz's Root Beer is a bit on the sweet side, so it's perfect in this recipe. Enjoy your floats! Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Vicki, I love posting about oldies but goodies! So much fun - and I hope you do make one today! I'm looking forward to this weekend, when I know I'll have another. Thanks for your comment.
Ice cream sodas rock!!! I do not care if it is winter here I really want to try this soon :D
Choc Chip Uru
Hi Guru Uru, I think you should! These are great any time of the year. Thanks for commenting.
Thanks for the reminder that I need to be making root beer floats more often (or ever)! They're such a fun treat. Think I'll whip some up for us this weekend!
Wow, this looks too good! I haven't had a root beer float (or any kind of float for that matter) in such a long time!
toooooooo tempting...excellent clik again dear
Hi Wicked Noodle, this weekend would be good. ;-) Easy to forget about these, but everyone really should have one now and then. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Cathleen, I know, I'd really bad reminding everyone about these. ;-) Thanks for your comment.
Hi Jay, thanks for your kind words, and your comment.
Totally loved these as a kid. Especially after playing tennis all afternoon. Nothing like a brain freeze to relax you after all that exertion. ;)
Hi Carolyn, those "brain freezes" are pretty good, aren't they? ;-) Such a simple dish, but so good. Thanks for taking time to comment.
Oh, that's a great idea! I need some cocktail basics. Looking forward to learn it here! :)
I've always enjoyed the root beer floats at A&W as a kid. Didn't know they were called black cows :) You make me want to have one right now.
Oh wow, I love your photos! I've never been that fond of root beer, but my friends all love them. I might just make this for our next party. :D
Hi Marina, I hope you'll find the upcoming post (probably on Monday) on cocktails basics useful! I'm really looking forward to the whole Summer Sippin' Series. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Biren, root beer floats at A&W were great! I loved those big, heavy mugs they had. There's better root beer than A&W - lots better - but I still use them in my Black Cows for nostalgia's sake. The "Black Cow" name isn't universal - lots of people don't know it. But it's reasonably popular. Heck, the band Steely Dan has a song named "Black Cow" (back from the 70's). Thanks for commenting.
Hi Jenny, if your friends like root beer, they'll love these! Thanks for your kind words, and your comment.
Oh - I definitely remember the Brown Cow and A&W root beer! In Louisiana we always used chocolate ice cream in a Brown Cow. That may have been because that's what we always had, but it didn't matter because I LOVED it! What a great idea for Memorial Day! Thanks for the reminder of such a great treat!
Hi mjskit, it's always interesting to me how food varies regionally. The chocolate ice cream is delish, but vanilla always speaks to me because, well, that's what I had as a kid. Hope you enjoy your Brown Cow this weekend! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
This is absolutely perfect for this Memorial Day weekend that I know will be very hot here in SoCal. Those drinks look pretty that I'm not sure if I want to even touch it. I may have to stare at it for a while. :)
Hi Ray, stare at it too long and it will melt! Hope you have a chance to have one this weekend. Thanks for your comment.
What an exciting drink! I'd love to sip that tonight on my balcony...
Hi Rosa, it's a lot of fun! Really enjoyable. And great for sipping on a balcony. Thanks for your comment.
Lovely. I love root beer or soda floats of all kind. It is brilliant idea to post summer sipping series. Can you includes some more non-alcohol drinks by any chance?
OMG! Your food pictures are absolutely amazing!! Your presentation is gorgeous and I want to sip this right now.
Hi Holly, aren't root beer floats great? Including some non-alcoholic drinks is a good idea — I'll definitely try to do that. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Purabi, you should probably make one right this instant! ;-) Well, as soon as you can. Thanks for your kind words, and your comment.
Root Beer Floats are my very best favorite! Love the Black Cow tidbits too. I'll be saving this post link for National Black Cow Day which just happens to be August 19!
If you're feeling really energetic, I did a post about Mr. Hires and the Black Cow a while back. It also includes a vintage Root Beer recipe!
Thanks for sharing...Now I'm craving a Black Cow!
P.S. Let me know and I'll tweet you the scanned recipe.
Hi Louise, didn't know that National Black Cow Day was in August. There's so many food celebrations it's hard to keep up. Yes, please tweet the recipe! Thanks for the comment.
Aah the brown cow. classic. amazing. delicious. Thanks for sharing! and your photos are gorgeous BTW!
Summer is definitely here...Can't wait to start whipping this up. Love the little parasols. Thanks for sharing!
Hi glutenfree, really great, isn't it? Thanks for your kind words, and your comment.
Hi MyFudo, aren't those little umbrellas cute? Kinda make the picture, IMO. Thanks for commenting.
Temperature's been high for 2 weeks now and we're definitely feeling the summer heat. Root beer float, so classic, so many memories sipping this favorite drink haha.
happy memorial day weekend. yes i can't wait for my mojita haha.
I love this! I haven't had root beer for a long time! This makes me thirsty! I love how you decorated with the umbrella!
What a fun post for the holiday weekend! I had no idea where the term "sundae" came from, so once again I've learned something from your post. I must admit that I'm not a big fan of soft drinks, but I know the rest of my family would love this!
My daughter loves root beer floats. I'll have to tell her they're called black cows, I didn't know that. Also, I love a good cocktail but I don't think I want it mixed with ice cream!
Hi Malou, yeah, it's been hot, hasn't it? Black Cows will taste good this weekend. And lucky me, I need to photography the Mojitas, so I'll be having one of those too! Thanks for your comment.
Hi Nami, it's the best way to drink root beer, IMO! I did have fun with the umbrella, I must admit. Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Beth, I was interested to learn about the origin of "sundae" too. There are so many fun food facts out there! And you owe it to the rest of your family to serve these sometime! Thanks for commenting.
Hi Julie, I agree with you on ice cream and cocktails - I've never understood the appeal. And I really wouldn't want to mess up my Black Cow that way! Thanks for taking time to comment.
I finally have you saved in my favorites in my phone, I really do enjoy your blog! I was reading a book the other day, and they were talking about root beer floats......I immediately had a craving:-) I am looking forward to your summertime series! My favorite summer drink growing up was Grape Apes, it is a simple yet fun summer drink.....I will have to share it on my site now:-) Have a great week! Hugs, Terra
Hi Terra, thank you so much for the kind words (and, of course, for taking time to comment). Do please share the Grape Apes on your blog - I hadn't heard about it but just looked it up,and it sounds like fun!
I haven't had a root beer float in years!
Hi Mother Rimmy, well, they're not the healthiest thing in the world - but awfully good! It's an occasional treat for us. Thanks for your comment.
I love how easy this is to make. The boyfriend is going to be thrilled!
Hi Chung-Ah, easy & delicious! Hope your boyfriend likes them. Thanks for the comment.
I haven't tasted a real root beer float in a long time. This looks beyond delicious. And it would be perfect at anytime. I am actually thinking; what a nice special treat for Christmas Eve.
Hi Judy, one of these would be a nice treat for Christmas Eve! Great idea! They're so good, I'll have one anytime. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
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