HOLLENBECK: Losing a longtime friend and staple of life

There’s never been a time when there wasn’t a container of Yarnell’s ice cream in my refrigerator. Make that a container of Yarnell’s VANILLA ice cream.
In recent times it’s been Yarnell’s “homemade vanilla,” but in earlier years it was just plain vanilla or maybe angel food vanilla. And sometimes its companion has been Yarnell’s black walnut, which my spouse says is the best black walnut cream around since it’s made with walnuts from the Arkansas Ozarks.
In some households, the “staples” are sugar and flour and such. At ours, it’s been the Yarnell’s.
No more Yarnell’s? That’s like no more popcorn at the theater or no more patriotic music for the Fourth of July.
Hearing Thursday that the plant was closing — make that actually closed as of Thursday morning — was like sending a knife through my heart.
Yarnell’s is part of my Americana — and not just mine, but also many others who grew up with the Arkansas-produced treat that never has been surpassed by any other company. I don’t care what the Texas-based bunch or proponents of the hoity-toity, hagen-schmagin varieties say: Yarnell’s and “best” are synonymous. That’s never gonna change.
But soon it will be relegated to memory. Along with the Grapettes and RC’s of my childhood and so many other things that once were bright spots in life.
When I heard about the closing, I rushed out and bought a couple of half-gallons of the homemade vanilla — or whatever the current amount the container holds. I don’t care how they weigh it or measure it: I just love the taste. And if I had a bigger freezer, I would have bought more.
There’s a really special memory I have related to Yarnell’s and the accommodating spirit of the wonderful family-owned company in Searcy, which isn’t far from Cotton Plant. A tradition at our high school in earlier days was the junior-senior banquet that preceded the prom. The juniors sponsored the event and the seniors were special guests.
The year I was a junior, our color scheme was blue and silver and the actual theme was something like “A Night Under the Stars” or some variation of that. We had created what we thought was a gorgeous setting and we wanted the food to be gorgeous as well as tasty. Anyway, the dessert, in keeping with the color scheme, was blue and white decorated cake — much like wedding cake — enhanced with BLUE ice cream.
This was before any restaurant or business made such as this available, so this was really innovative for that period. I hadn’t even heard of Baskin-Robbins and its zillion varieties at that time. I think Howard Johnson’s had come out with some new flavors, but you had to go to Little Rock for that and we weren’t interested. We got the Yarnell’s folks to make a special batch of blue ice cream for our big event. It was a brilliant sky-blue shade.
How many places would be that helpful to a little school like ours? But the Yarnells were community-minded folks who aimed to please and did.
I’ll never forget the blue ice cream that was such a special touch for our milestone occasion. Blue, but still very much vanilla.
Others can jazz up their cream in a bizillion ways, but it’s never going to taste better than Yarnell’s homemade vanilla. You just can’t improve on perfect.
Friend Brenda Harris shared one of her Yarnell’s memories. This happened a number of years ago during the Wanda Williams era with the Saline County Humane Society.
Brenda recalled overhearing then-shelter employee Thomas Garner on the phone with the Yarnell’s folks, placing a special order for the black walnut variety to be shipped in dry ice to some out-of-state relatives.
Hope it got there without melting.
Gov. Mike Beebe, who grew up in the Searcy area, is another Yarnell’s aficionado who was saddened by the news of the company’s closing. At its 75th anniversary celebration, Beebe reminisced about drinking vanilla milkshakes made with Yarnell’s ice cream at a corner drug store when he was a child.
Wish the Yarnell folks — a company in its fourth generation of family ownership — could have figured out a way to stay afloat. I’d have paid twice as much to keep my favorite treat around.
As we celebrate our country’s independence this weekend, we won’t forget to have a dish of vanilla cream at our house.
You can bet your boots it will be Yarnell’s. For as long as we can get it.

Lynda Hollenbeck is associate editor of The Saline Courier.