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Dairy Queen's Blizzard freezes the good times in an upside-down world

Eric Webb
Dairy Queen introduced the Blizzard to its menu in 1985. The soft serve treats can be ordered with a variety of mix-and-match candies and other sweets. [ERIC WEBB / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

I don’t ask much of my desserts. Just that they’re sweet, and that they break at least one law of physics.

The Dairy Queen Blizzard holds a special place in the hearts of Texans, myself included. At its face, the concept seems simple: soft serve ice cream mixed together with candy or other delights. But don’t be fooled. The Blizzard contains multitudes, bound by a little butterfat. It is the long-awaited prize at the end of a Hill Country highway’s vanishing point. It’s a frosty fix for the overheated. It’s a personality test for all who tarry at a so-called Texas stop sign. Just think of its endless flavor iterations. Oreo, and Heath, and choices upon choices.

And importantly, it doesn’t fall out of the cup when you flip it upside down. If your ice cream is tethered to Earth’s gravitational field, my friend, it’s not a Blizzard.

The fast food chain introduced the ice cream concoction to its menu in 1985. Much like Dairy Queen itself, the Blizzard Treat (its government name) isn’t a Lone Star creation, even if it has swirled into the fabric of what we love about Texas. St. Louis Dairy Queen operator Samuel J. Temperato, inspired by the success of a rival frozen custard stand, pitched the idea for the Blizzard to the company’s higher-ups, according to a 1986 New York Times story. They liked it, and its popularity soared.

Dairy Queen boasts on its website about 175 million sold that year. A 12-ounce Blizzard cost a $1.29 then, according to the Times, and the “deafening whine” of the new Blizzard Blender machines in stores across the country drove employees a little batty. Dairy Queen’s president and CEO at the time, Harris Cooper, told the Times that the Blizzard was the biggest thing to happen to the company in a quarter-century. The headline on that Times article: “Dairy Queen’s Blizzard Is Hot.”

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Compared to messy sundaes and staid cones, slurpable shakes and fluid floats, it’s easy to see the appeal of a hearty Blizzard. The whipped soft serve ice cream goes down light but holds itself, and the candy it contains, with integrity. I don’t think a Dairy Queen employee has ever handed me a Blizzard without first flipping it over ― a sugary stalactite and its spoon of Damocles.

The options for mix-ins are kaleidoscopic. You can stick to a single classic accouterment: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or M&Ms, perhaps. Then there are the hacks. Mint syrup, with its alluringly artificial green hue, can usually be added as you see fit. Extra mix-ins are advisable, if you’re prone to disappointment when the red plastic spoon hits the bottom.

A “royal” Blizzard is the provenance of the truly decadent dairy devotee, with liquid sweets like peanut butter or strawberry filling injected into the core. Every new dig, then, proves to be a Texas-size gusher.

There are special, seasonal flavors, too. To consider the many ways to spin a Blizzard is to peer into a tasty prism of possibility.

Whipped into the soft serve with the motorized whir of the blender, too, are the good times. As a child, my dad always wanted a chocolate-dipped cone from the Dairy Queen on South Lamar Boulevard, but I couldn’t wait to order a Blizzard with Butterfinger. I have always been and will forever be a Butterfinger boy.

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After summer drama club retreats at Crockett High School, my friends and I might walk over to the Dairy Queen on Stassney Lane and get into some Blizzards. And once temperatures started to warm up this year, I got into the habit of parking at the Burnet Road location on Sunday nights with a Blizzard, the streaks of passing tail lights and whatever was on KUT at the moment.

Of course, Dairy Queens are synonymous with the open road. What cross-state drive hasn’t been made better with the punctuation of a Blizzard to break up the mile markers? Just off the top of my head, I can recall what I ordered on the way back from Davy Crockett National Forest over Memorial Day weekend this year (Oreo Cookie Jar Blizzard, add Reese’s), in July of last year in Archer City (a classic Oreo) or in June 2017, at a Dripping Springs Dairy Queen on the way back from Marfa (a special peanut butter cookie flavor).

Granted, this might speak to a peculiarly obsessive mental catalog of Blizzard purchases on my part. My point is that for every road traveled in Texas, there’s a Blizzard to mark the moment.

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So great is my love for Blizzards that, when I was about to move to Lynchburg, Va., for my first job out of college, I made an Austin bucket list prominently featuring Dairy Queen. I was under the impression at the time that Dairy Queen was an only-in-Texas kind of thing. Don’t pretend their jingle couldn’t convince you of the same.

The thought of not once having a Blizzard that summer genuinely bummed me out. Moreso, I was sad to leave Austin, the only home I’d ever known, to move to a small town surrounded by unfamiliar trees in a strange state. I don’t cry about my own circumstances in life very often, though I’m a soft touch when it comes to movies. I cried as I pulled out of my college apartment parking lot for the last time, though.

The drive was long. My car pulled into Lynchburg in the dead of night. The first sign I remember seeing in my new home was for a Stripes gas station. (“What’s a Stripes?” I asked myself.) The second sign I remember seeing: Dairy Queen.

I ate many Butterfinger Blizzards that summer. I was far from home, but still not one slid out of its cup when flipped over. Feeling a little upside-down myself, it was nice to know that some things are the same wherever you go.