Newjoy Ice Cream sandwich board from a dairy showing products of the time. Painted by Tyrell & Holmes, 1958, courtesy of and © D. R. Murray of Built In Dunedin blog at http://builtindunedin.com/
Hokey Pokey ice cream. A national icon of foodstuffs, and officially the country’s favourite flavour next to (surprisingly) vanilla, in a land where the citizens have the highest consumption of ice cream per capita globally- sitting at well over twenty litres per annum, per person – even beating out the entire of the U.S. An amazing statistic really.
So who invented it? It’s a very good question, actually. Next to the Pavlova debate, it may be the number one most hotly contested issue of that genre.
Hokey Pokey, the confectionery, was apparently around quite some time as an individual confectionery product before it made it into ice cream form.
A close-up of William Hatton’s 1896 patent paperwork for Hokey Pokey, Archives New Zealand.
Of course the famous fact about Hokey Pokey is that it was patented by a man named William Hatton, a manufacturer and confectioner from Dunedin, in March 1896:
A mixture of about 20 to 30 pounds of sugar and five to ten pounds of glucose is boiled with a little water to a degree not exceeding 400 degrees Fahrenheit; and then from 2 to 3 ounces of Carbonate of Soda is added causing the mixture to froth and become light. It is then poured out and moulded into any desired shape.
The record lies within Archives New Zealand where they consider it one of the jewels in the Kiwiana crown. They did a short piece on it here:
“The invention of Hokey Pokey signifies how food is intimately related to our sense of identity and what it means to be a New Zealander”, says Greg Goulding , the Chief Archivist and General Manager.
Tin sign advertising Papatoetoe concern Meadow Gold which took over Snowflake in 1955. This sign probably early 1960s.
Hatton may have patented the name and method, but he certainly didn’t invent it. I managed to locate records of Hokey Pokey being sold as confectionery new Zealand quite some time earlier than that – it was being offered as early as 1892 – by the Tyrell stores, owned by King and Co. It seems to have been in vogue as a novelty for a decade or so, and then doesn’t start re-appearing as a sweet until the 1920s.
Griffins Hokey Pokey Cream biscuits photographed by Kniven & Co for Woolworths N.Z. Ltd., Alexander Turnbull Library collection , Ref: 1/2-210966-F
None of these references of course show exactly what the product looked like or even describe it, however the earliest descriptions of commercial product refer to hunks, lumps or slabs – and that’s mostly in the late 1920s-early 1930s. The earliest visual I have is 1932 by MacDuffs. It was a chocolate coated bar and what would closely resemble a Crunchie, or Violet Crumble in Australia today; perhaps a bit heftier. Earlier mentions describing it as chocolate-coated hunks or lumps would resemble what’s sold today as “Honeycomb.”
Tip-Top TT-2, courtesy of Fonterra’s Tip-Top archives.
Although Professor Helen Leach, who is a culinary anthropologist at Otago University (and wrote the book “The Pavlova Story” on the famous debate over the dessert) at the time she was quoted (2010) says that the earliest recipe she could find was 1916. However, The Auckland Star newspaper’s confectioner offered a cookbook including a Hokey Pokey recipe in 1895.
A picture of William Hatton’s 1896 patent paperwork for Hokey Pokey, Archives New Zealand.
I don’t doubt that putting candy pieces in ice cream was an old idea. Hokey Pokey ice cream can generally be described as plain vanilla with small lumps of what is commonly known as honeycomb toffee distributed throughout it. Jeri Quinzio, a food historian, says that the origins of Hokey Pokey ice cream are rather simple and consisted of a cake of plain ice cream proffered by street vendors which was sliced to order and served wrapped in a piece of paper. Often the ice cream was layered in three flavours (what is commonly known as Neapolitan today) but this was not a hard and fast rule. It’s also quite likely that variations had small pieces of toffee or candy, and other ingredients mixed in the plain or layered base – a little like Cassata. According to The Encyclopaedia of Food, 1923, which was published in New York, Hokey Pokey is “a term applied to mixed colours and flavours of ice cream in cake form”.
MacDuffs Stores confectionery, Hokey Pokey Tablet, November 1932.
And indeed it is thought that the origins of the name may be Italian and come from one of two phrases – “oh che poco” (oh how little) or “ecco un poco” (here is a little piece). This does make some sense, since that the term Hokey Pokey is also thought to derive from a song that was used by Italian street vendors who used to sing it in order to hawk their wares in 19th century Britain and America – and came to be known as “Hokey Pokey Men” ( and thus, the carts came to be known as Hokey Pokey Barrows). Another theory is that the vendors would yell “Ecce pocce”, which means something similar to “Get it here, it’s cold”, in Italian and this evolved into the name “Hokey Pokey”. After all, it was the Italians (and French) that really started making what we now know as ice cream in the late 1600s.
A recreation of Hokey Pokey in it’s original form; in the C19th it was a simple slice served wrapped in paper, often a tri flavour creation. Courtesy of Ivan Day from a fantatsic blog “Food History Jottings” at foodhistorjottings.blogspot.com.au
However “The Hokey Pokey” was a song (and dance) was inspired by the sweet treat, not the other way around, , allegedly written by bandleader Al Tabor in 1940, the idea came from an ice cream vendor whom Tabor had heard as a boy, calling out, “Hokey pokey, penny a lump. Have a lick, make you jump”.
Evening Post, December 1927.
Apparently, the story goes that Hokey Pokey in ice cream form was first made by a Papatoetoe company in the 1940s. This alleged fact has been widely quoted by various, but the only source I could find giving credit was Christchurch City library which indicates the information as being from Richard Wolfe and Stephen Barnett’s 2002 book “100 years of Kiwiana.” CCL’s page on Kiwi Classics goes on to say “…peculiar to New Zealand is hokey-pokey (sic), a blend of vanilla base with pieces of toffee. Made famous by Tip Top, it was first sold by the Meadow Gold Ice Cream Company of Papatoetoe, Auckland, in the 1940s. The idea of adding toffee wasn’t new, but the distinctive taste was unique.” Further to that, the “100% New Zealand” website, by Tourism New Zealand, claims that it was “… first sold in 1940 (but doesn’t say by whom), Hokey Pokey became a national favourite when the Tip-Top Ice Cream company began heavily marketing it in the 1950s…” Yet again the source of this information isn’t quoted.
MacDuff’s Stores confectionery, Evening Post, September 1933.
In fact Meadow Gold (which had a logo rather like Borden’s “Elsie the Cow”) didn’t exist until 1955. The Snowflake ice cream factory was once situated just to the south of the block of shops on the corner of Great South Road and Caspar Road, Papatoetoe. The factory was run by W.G. Lunn during the 1940s, then Rita and George Aagard took over the business in 1949, selling it to Meadow Gold after they were done after just six years. So technically, Meadow Gold could not have come out with it in the 1940s.
Of course, everyone wants to stake their claim, be “the person that had the idea” – and take the title of the one who invented this beloved dessert. Tip-Top’s claim is fairly dubious, and there is no information on Meadow Gold let alone anything to back that claim up. The janky dates also don’t fare well at all.
A screen shot of William Hatton’s method description in his patent, 1896, Archives New Zealand
A more detailed explanation comes from descendants of Peter Pan ice cream’s founder T.C. Denne, who claim that they were possibly the first to make Hokey Pokey, not Meadow Gold– and they actually have a written description of how it was first made – “In the early days, The hokey-pokey was manually crushed into large chunks and hand-spooned into the ice cream during the churning process. Later the engineers developed machinery which crushed and blended the hokey pokey into the ice cream”.
Yvonne Sutton as well as John Denne distinctly remember it already being made by the mid-1950s: “My understanding is, it was Peter Pan that invented the Hokey Pokey ice cream. I’m pretty sure that’s correct. It was a very exacting procedure because you have a porous, soft sugary product inside an ice cream – and to stop the Hokey Pokey from melting was really a technique that was very valuable – and my understanding is that Peter Pan began it”, says John. Yvonne remembers: “I think it was an original Peter Pan product – first made – and superior to all later versions. Of course I’m somewhat biased. I well remember it being made by Trevor Franklin in a large steam jacketed ‘kettle,’ and how the golden sugary mix frothed up when the baking soda was put in. It was poured hot into large, shallow, cut down milk powder tins, and chilled. When cold, it was dropped in big chunks into an ingenious crusher, built by engineer Gordon Brogden, then shovelled generously by hand into the ice cream. Delectable!”
So here we have some verifiable company information, a detailed description, a general date and eyewitnesses.
Modern version of the Tip-Top tub showing the new toffee balls that recently replaced smashed “kibble”.
In the scheme of things they are a contender for the title however here is another, likely better one: Brian Simon, previous owner of both Deep South Ice Cream Ltd and Manda Ice Cream companies in Invercargill. Now in his seventies, he himself claims to have made the first Hokey Pokey ice cream at a Dunedin company in 1953:
“I was 18 and working in my father’s ice cream factory Newjoy Ice Cream Co., and we thought about different flavours (we could do). I was reading in an American magazine about what they were making there and one was candy ice cream, and I thought “well, we’ve never had one like that in New Zealand”. We had two Dutchmen working there during the daytime and then when they knocked off, they walked up the road to Cadbury’s to do the night shift. One day I asked them – “what are you doing there?” and they said “Oh, we’re making Crunchie bars”. So I said “do they have any broken Hokey Pokey?”and they said “yes, they’ve got quite a bit” and I said “well can you put me in touch with the man that I can talk to about buying some?” So we got some and I started sprinkling it into the ice cream. And that’s how we first made ice cream with Hokey Pokey in it and it became quite popular. Our opposition at the time was Crystal Ice Cream in Dunedin and they started doing it too – and it just sort of blossomed from there.
But I have seen in a book that somebody showed me, that Tip-Top claim to be the first ones to do it in 1943 or 1944 and I said “oh, that’s bullshit”. At that time we were on sugar rationing , as well as petrol rationing , because it was World War Two and you just couldn’t get the sugar to do those sort of things. So I don’t think that is what really happened. So it was the broken pieces of Crunchie bars – and eventually Cadbury’s actually made special stuff for us because we were using so much of it, they put it in eleven pound bags and we bought it in pallet lots. When we bring on a new flavour we don’t know how it’s going to go, and so we didn’t get too excited about Hokey Pokey at the time. When the opposition saw that we were selling a lot of it they decided to have a go at it. I haven’t got a message for Tip-Top; they are the market leaders and they seem to have claimed that it was theirs since during the war, well I don’t know where they got their sugar from!”.
Hokey Pokey biscuits from a vintage Edmond’s Sure To Rise cookbook.
It is a fact that during WWII years, that manufacturers were only allowed to use fifty percent of their usual sugar. On top of that, a 25% sales tax was imposed on products so many manufacturers such as Cadbury decided to cancel most of their confectionery lines and put all their sugar into chocolate bars for the war effort.
The earliest verification I have of Tip-Top selling Hokey Pokey are both in the 1950s, both in bulk, and in quart boxes. However the dates further than the general decade are not more specific. Brian Simon is described by a colleague as “a no-nonsense kind of guy”, and his account does sound believable. This could be backed up by Cadbury’s and other witnesses of the time if, indeed, any are still alive. By his account Crunchie Bars were on the market in NZ around in the early fifties, and they were being made from the late 1920’s in the UK first by Fry and then Cadbury Fry when they merged (and then Cadbury Fry merged with NZ’s Hudson in 1930). They were present in Australia by 1929.
Here’s the problem: Ted Barringer, who was sent from Britain in 1952 to work on sales and marketing, and eventually became managing director of Cadbury Fry Hudson for 17 years, specifically remembers working up the almost non-existent novelty line and sending for the successful Crunchie recipe and process from J S Fry at Somerdale in the U.K., in 1955. By all accounts it was an instant hit in Aotearoa. Although the hand-cut method of production in New Zealand may have accounted for high breakage, they just weren’t being made before then. This probably puts Newjoy and Peter Pan back head-to-head.
It should also be noted, for the record, that Peter Pan first published their company history “Sweet Success” in 1997, a good twelve years before Simon gave his interview.
By the late 1950s to early 1960s Both Hudson’s and Griffin’s had their versions of Hokey Pokey biscuits, and Tip-Top had a Hokey Pokey TT-2, pictured here, exact dates for all are unknown – but it goes unsaid, way after the fact.
Hokey Pokey commemorated in a NZ Post “Kiwiana” stamp set of 1994.
Nobody is going to challenge Tip-Top’s claim – and besides that “Hokey Pokey” is apparently not a registered trademark, to this day. They recently modified the recipe to use uniform honeycomb balls, from what was formerly known as “kibble” in the trade – reason being that the bigger chunks, created by hammering the toffee into pieces, would routinely clog the machinery. Combining two classics, they also released a limited edition Trumpet version – “Creamy Hokey Pokey flavoured ice cream with crunchy hokey pokey pieces, a caramel sauce centre and sprinkled with hokey pokey pieces and choc topping”, celebrating renowned Kiwi team the All Blacks, in 2011. Regardless of what Tip-Top do to it, they will never really make it their own – But besides that – evidence speaks otherwise to Hokey Pokey’s origins. Yet to materialise are dates and details that back up their implication as original creator.
There is at least the good beginnings of a story here, even if it’s one of those “ask more questions than gives answers” type of articles to start with – and hopefully more information will come to light in due course which will settle this mystery once and for all.
All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2012. All rights reserved.