Cadbury’s “99”, 1936
Today’s post began through a fit of annoyance that literally every flavour of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream contains eggs, thereby making a trip to the cinema with my egg-allergic little girl an ice-cream free zone. And it ended with a minor dairy-based historical discovery and an ultimately unfulfilled quest.
So, I was looking up which ice creams contained eggs when I stumbled on the website for The Ice Cream Alliance, and an interesting little section on the wonder that is the Cadbury’s “99”. The “99” being a delicacy that Wikipedia tells me is enjoyed not only in Britain, but also Ireland, South Africa and Australia, and, I need hardly say for British readers, consists of a cone of soft-serve ice-cream, garnished with a specially-sized flake chocolate bar.
I was forced to go to the park and buy one for illustrative purposes at this point.
Here’s the facts, as we know them. Why is a “99” called a “99”? Good question. It’s a Cadbury’s trademark to describe “a scoop or swirl of soft serve ice cream with a Cadbury chocolate flake in it,” yet no one is clear about the original meaning of the name, including, apparently, Cadbury’s.
What’s that? A tiny historical mystery, you say? I’m on the case!
The Ice Cream Alliance says Cadbury’s is cagey about the origins of the “99”. Wikipedia at least gives some dates, stating that the “99” as we know it now, cone, ice cream and Flake and all, has been served since 1922.
Although, come on, the Screwball isn’t really a “99” in a plastic cone. There’s a crucial ball of bubblegum at the bottom, and definitely sauce and/or sherbet involved.
An aside – red sauce on a “99”, Wikipedia tells me, is called “monkey blood” in some regions, which is exciting. This is my reference point for sauce on an ice-cream though – “I didn’t ask for sauce.” “I didn’t give you sauce.”
Anyway. Both Wikipedia and Cadbury’s own website date the origin of the Flake itself from 1920, when a Cadbury’s employee shrewdly noted how excess chocolate fell off the moulds in a drizzly, thin, flakey layer. Unfortunately I can find no evidence of adverts in any archives until the 1930s and even Cadbury’s website illustrates the invention of the Flake with a 1960s ad.
What I did find, though, was this. Brand new information – to me at least, and also apparently to Wikipedia and the Ice Cream Alliance, seeing as there’s no mention of it anywhere else I’ve seen. From the British Newspaper Archive, a fairly extensive campaign in 1936 advertising the new invention of the “99”, within adverts for Flake.
It’s obviously a newish thing in 1936 because the hook line is “Have you tried a 99?” Importantly, though, this 99 is not a 99! It’s an ice cream wafer sandwich with two strips of ice cream and a Flake in the middle. Your confectioner will be happy to provide.
Now it seems unlikely to me that in 1922 the “99” came into being, fully formed as we know it today, only to be replaced by something different in 1936, presented as new, and then reverted back at some unspecified point. PLUS, there wasn’t even soft-serve ice cream in the UK until the 1940s, hence this 1936 concoction consisting of ice cream blocks. Depending on who you believe, Maggie Thatcher may or may not have had a hand in developing soft serve for the British market. Which has put me off it a bit.
Still, though, I can’t find mention of this anywhere else, and, you know, maybe Cadbury’s has even forgotten it themselves. I still haven’t got to the bottom of it, but if any readers have any memories of “99” which are different to today, please let me know.