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Family-owned shops scoop sweet treats

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Waffle cones are baked fresh daily at Harper’s Ice Cream Co. in Phoenix. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Cookies and cream and other flavors are made in-house at Harper’s Ice Cream Co. in Phoenix.
Floats combine ice cream and specialty soda flavors at Violets & Cream in Medford. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Candy cane hot chocolate is a seasonal treat at Violets & Cream in Medford. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Ice cream at Medford’s Violets & Cream is made at BJ’s in Florence. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]
Holiday displays complement retro decor at Medford’s Violet’s & Cream. [Sarah Lemon/Mail Tribune]

Wintry weather, in my experience, can’t cool the ardor for frozen desserts.

Ice cream still tantalizes kids and adults who brave the season’s outdoor temperatures for shopping, socializing and December merry making. Trips promising ice cream are even merrier since two locally owned businesses started scooping their signature treats.

Violets & Cream added a Medford expansion of its Jacksonville store in September, followed a couple of months later by Harper’s Ice Cream Co. in Phoenix. While the former offers a larger lineup of flavors — from BJ’s Ice Cream in Florence — as well as shakes and other sweet beverages, the latter makes its ice cream on site in small batches. Both are family-owned enterprises involving their next generations.

Kids were the obvious test testers for this outing. Ice cream’s siren song is akin to a pied piper for my 7- and 9-year-old sons, like most their age.

First, we tried Harper’s the weekend it opened in the strip mall at 721 Main St. Hours are 3-8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).

A dozen daily flavors displayed on an electronic board behind Harper’s counter help to ease crowding around the freezer cases. To de rigueur vanilla, dark chocolate, strawberry and mint chip, Harper’s added butter pecan and cookies and cream. Seasonal pumpkin caramel spice and cranberry white chocolate beckoned, but the most unusual was horchata.

Waffle cones ($1.25 apiece) are baked fresh daily, so there’s little appeal in classic cake cones, unless you like that inimitable Styrofoam texture (I actually do). But because I didn’t want to risk a cone overwhelming my choice of the subtly spiced horchata, I asked for my scoop ($4.50) in a dish.

No such scruples influenced my partner and sons, who ordered singles in waffles cones. Harper’s willingness to scoop more than one flavor in its smallest size convinced my partner to try both s’mores and cranberry white chocolate. My older son predictably gravitated to dark chocolate while his brother requested a reliable favorite, cookies and cream.

Although Harper’s motto is “we keep it simple,” the store does dress up its scoops in made-to-order sandwiches ($6.50) featuring fresh-baked cookies or brownies. Drizzle either baked item with chocolate or caramel sauce and top with whipped cream and sprinkles for Harper’s “simple sundae” ($6.50).

There’s nothing simple about this ice cream, however. Using only cane sugar, Harper’s produces a less-sweet dessert that lets other ingredients shine. Co-owner Doug Harper has spent the past five years refining his recipes and almost a year opening his first retail store, previously selling at farmers markets and special events. He and wife Karen said they wanted to bring something nostalgic yet new to Phoenix as the city rebuilds from the Almeda Fire.

Familiar to many in the region, horchata is an iced Mexican drink whose notes of cinnamon and almond pair just as well in Harper’s refreshingly light ice cream. I’ll enjoy sampling more of Harper’s specialty flavors and hope Doug goes even bolder with some of his fruit and herb essences.

Fruity and pungent flavors — Rogue Valley pear and ginger — that I’ve enjoyed at BJ’s on the coast and Zoey’s in Ashland also are represented at Violets & Cream in the McAndrews Marketplace. Other notables are “Oregon Trail” and huckleberry, the latter a key ingredient in one of the shop’s six specialty floats ($6 apiece), prepared with the corresponding soda flavor.

Because my younger son and I both craved the huckleberry float, I couldn’t conscience ordering two of the same treat. So I fell back on a scoop ($3.75) of my favorite ginger ice cream. My chocoholic older son, in a seasonal concession, requested the 12-ounce candy cane hot chocolate ($3.75). Also among Violets & Cream’s hot “elixirs” is an affogato, a scoop of ice cream swimming in hot cocoa or double espresso, for $6.

Violets & Cream’s sundaes challenge customers to choose from seven sauces and eight toppings, priced at $5.25 for a small or $7.25 for a large. There also are cake-based “dessert specialties” for $8 that pay homage to America’s favorite pastime and Jacksonville’s gold rush.

Bygone eras are echoed in dozens of vintage candies displayed around the store, as well as Art Deco-inspired wallpaper couches and light fixtures. Old-time sweets stocked in Laura Smith’s original Jacksonville location inspired the addition of ice cream, which steadily outsold her other retail items since 2019. Demand held steady through the coronavirus pandemic, warranting Smith’s expansion to Medford.

To complement made-in-Oregon flavors, Smith said she’s working with BJ’s on a signature “violets and cream” recipe. She already devised “diggity dog ice cream,” a canine treat available at both locations and packaged for retail sale at Red Dog Pet Supply stores in Jacksonville, Rogue River and Eagle Point.

I look forward to returning for old-fashioned phosphates and egg creams, which Smith has promised in coming months. The modern palate can choose from a full menu of specialty coffee drinks, including holiday favorites.

Violets & Cream, at 1251 E. McAndrews Road, Medford, is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday though Sunday (except Christmas). The Jacksonville location, 150 S. Oregon St., is open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday (except Christmas). Special Christmas Eve hours are until 4 p.m. at both locations.

Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com