Tomato bisque ice cream, it's a thing

Tomato soup ice cream might sound like an impossible oxymoron, but as of this week. it’s a very real thing.

The unusual frozen treat debuts Thursday at Franklin Fountain, the Old City dessert parlor run by Eric and Ryan Berley. Savory ice creams aren’t entirely a new thing for the brothers. They’ve previously whipped up flavors like oyster and smoked meat — and of course, scrapple. But the tomato bisque flavor was inspired by a recipe that’s 102 years old.

Who was making tomato soup a century ago? Lots of people, probably, but one in particular stands out: Dr. John Dorrance of the Campbell Soup Company.

A former chemist who went on to become company president, Dorrance is the man responsible for creating the soup that would one day be immortalized by Andy Warhol. Last year, the Camden-based canned food giant recently unearthed his original 1915 recipe card, buried in a notebook in its archives.

“It’s almost like going back and finding your grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s recipe card,” said Michelle Morale, Campbell’s director of soup strategy (yes, that’s her real job title).

After the discovery, the company decided to produce a special batch of the soup. The recipe called for New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes — no problem there — but instead of specifying ingredient amounts in cups or tablespoons, it listed measurements in bushels and baskets, which made efforts to recreate it a challenge.

With the combined expertise of some retired chefs and the current R&D team, Campbell’s was able to figure it out, and the company produced a limited-edition run of 10,000 jars to be offered at Cracker Barrel restaurants throughout PA and NJ.

The recreated historic recipe Credit: Courtesy of Campbell Soup Company

Morale and her colleagues began brainstorming additional ways to share it with the local community — and thought of Franklin Fountain. She reached out to see if the historically-accurate Philly shop was interested in hosting a celebration event, and was met with an enthusiastic response.

“They just brought so much extra to the table,” Morale said. “The nostalgic feel of the founders…was a great way for us to harness our past.”

The idea to incorporate a specially-made ice cream didn’t come until the two parties met.

As the Berleys explained to Morale when they made their pitch, Franklin Fountain has been successful in marketing and selling other unusually flavored ice creams in the past. For example, after catering an event with oyster ice cream, they decided to sell it in the shop. Surprisingly, some guests went for it.

“I don’t know if it was just teenagers doing dares,” Eric Berley admitted.

It took a bit of experimentation to get the tomato bisque ice cream right, texture-wise. But once Berley and his fellow “ice cream engineers” determined they needed to start with a roux (the flour-butter thickener that’s a culinary sauce staple), things fell into place. The very first batch they made turned out perfectly, Berley said, except it could use a side of saltines.

Adventurous taste-testers can try it out for themselves and score free samples of the original “Campbell’s Beefsteak Tomato Soup” between noon and 4 p.m. on February 2.

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Plus, turns out serving soup at an ice cream parlor isn’t that weird, after all.

According to a book called The Dispenser’s Formula, which Berley keeps on his desk, the shops after which Franklin Fountain is styled would generally also offer luncheonette service. On the menu along with ice cream sodas, scoops and shake would be sandwiches and — you guessed it — soup. The book even contains a 1915 recipe for tomato bisque.