My mother’s magic elixir was, and always has been, vanilla ice cream. Sore throat. Stomach ache. Headache. Heartache. Even cancer. When I’m back home and she senses that I’m not feeling at the top of my game, she says, “How would you like some vanilla ice cream? It’s good for everything, you know.”

In many ways, she’s right. Whatever the flavor, ice cream is perhaps the most soothing of all desserts. (Whether it has actual healing power is far less certain.) My mother’s penchant for Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream blinded me from an early age. Then Ben & Jerry came along with their fudge fish and marshmallow swirl and brownies, and in a haze of teenage myopia and greed, I turned my back on vanilla.

As for soft serve, I never had any great interest in it; it simply didn’t offer the intense flavor, the satisfying scoop, the just-soft-enough-to-slide-a-spoon-into consistency that was so deeply comforting. But soft serve has evolved, certainly since my childhood. It is no longer the airy, chemical swirl of Mister Softee trucks, but rather a culinary carnival, made best known in chef and restaurateur David Chang’s empire, with the nostalgic (and delicious) cereal milk cone topped with corn flakes. This, I thought, could not be topped. On every trip to New York City from Portland, I make sure to stop for a cereal milk soft serve, and be transported into a sugary, trippy, Fruity Pebbles-inspired delirium.

But now I live in Portland, and my husband and I have a 16-month-old son, and we tell ourselves we need to be healthier and purer. Enter a world of sweetener I never imagined could be so transcendent: honey. (A good friend loves honey so much that the inside of one of his kitchen cabinets looks as if a family of bears stores its entire supply there.)

As it turns out, bears are responsible for some of the greatest soft serve on earth, served at The Honey Paw in Portland, whose idea for their caramelized honey flavor came from the restaurant’s name. Order it and you are delivered a perfectly sized dish of what looks like ordinary vanilla soft serve, covered in a hard chocolate shell and scattered with pieces of handmade honeycomb candy. Before you can even finish the first bite, you are grabbing your neighbor’s arm like a small child, mouth still full, saying, “You have to try this. RIGHT NOW.”

The flavor is a clear, luminous, bright, smooth and surprisingly straightforward honey, from Swan’s in Albion, Maine. The honey is boiled long enough so that it caramelizes, then combined with milk, cream, glucose and a hint of salt. The chocolate and the honeycomb candy are also made in house at The Honey Paw; those additions are subtle, and manage to co-exist with the honey without overpowering it. They are sidekicks, willing to wait in the wings and appear just when you want them to. As for the soft serve itself – it is a dreamy consistency – velvety smooth, quick to dissolve on your tongue, and light as could be, with a flavor that lingers just long enough for me to think about it at least once a week.

And when my son gets a little bit older and needs a pick-me-up, I might just say to him, “Now how would you like a caramelized honey soft serve? It’s good for everything, you know.”

Anna Stoessinger lives in Maine with her husband, Keith, her son, Henry, and their dog, Bess. She is a writer who works in advertising. She can be contacted at or on Instagram: @astoessinger.

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