The Italian Tutti Frutti Ice Cream
The Graeter’s family story is one fraught with tragedy and westward-ho wanderlust. If it wasn’t for several somewhat tragic events in their family history we might not be enjoying our Black Raspberry Chocolate chip and instead might be eating a creation called Tutti Frutti Ice Cream. And it’s really the woman behind the man, Regina Berger Graeter, who is responsible for the implementing the French Pot method that today makes Graeter’s ice cream what Oprah Winfrey says, is “the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.”
The Graeter’s ice cream story starts romantically enough. A young couple from the Kingdom of Saxony in Germany, Louis Carl and Julia Graeter, followed the waves of German immigrants and brought their two year old son, Louis Carl Jr., to Madison, Indiana, in 1854, for a better life. They settled into a northern Germanic agrarian community there, had four more children, Fred, Caroline, Charles, and Clara. Louis Graeter, Sr., took on the trade of barber.
A young Graeter family photo in Madison, Indiana. A snarky Louis Jr at left and Fred on far right.
By 1870, the oldest son, Louis Jr., struck by wanderlust, moved East along the Ohio River to the larger industrial city of Cincinnati where he started making ice cream. Family lore says that he left Madison because his father was so mean to him. In 1879, Louis’s younger brother Fred, then 16, joined him in the trade. Together, they operated an ice cream and candy confectionery at 437 West McMillen Street. The rest of the Graeter family would join them in Cincinnati by 1880, but the patriarch, Louis Carl Sr., would die in Cincinnati in 1884.
But then Louis Jr’s wanderlust took hold again. In his mid thirties, and married to Anna, Louis, in 1888 said goodbye to his wife, brother and family to try his luck in Stockton, California. He left his brother with an indebted confectionery business. Fred had found himself a wife Laura, whom he married on April 5, 1887.
Stockton had been a major hub for the California Gold rush from 1848-1853. By the time Louis had arrived, Stockton had become a major transportation and commercial center. Flour mills, carriage and wagon factories, iron foundries and shipyards surrounded the San Juaquin River valley. The manufacturing of agricultural tools became a major industry there. Several local inventions revolutionized farming techniques, including the Stockton Gang Plow and farm machinery produced by the Holt Manufacturing Company. Many other industries flourished in Stockton making it one of the most industrialized cities in California by the end of the nineteenth century.
After Louis left town, Fred and Laura moved the ice cream operation in 1889 to 419 Race Street and continued the ice cream and confection business, digging themselves out of debt and into profits. Fred learned very fine French and Italian methods of ice cream production and apparently introduced some high end products that none of the other local ice cream manufacturers had. The Columbus Indiana Republican reported in 1891 an amazing new ice cream creation that Fred Graeter introduced to the region at the wedding anniversary of his brother–in-law, Edward Huber in Indiana.
“The ice cream was made by Mr. F. L Graeter of Cincinnati, and was very fine, being something entirely new to this market composed of layers of different flavors of ice cream and lemon ice.”
This describes what was known at the time as Tutti Frutti, which in English means ‘all fruit’. It’s basically a many layered ice cream like spumoni, but more elaborite, with alternating layers of fruit ice creams and fruit sorbets. A Recipe book “Ice Cream and Cakes” from 1900 details the Tutti Frutti creation, also called “macedoines de fruits glaces” in France.
“It is composed of alternate layers of water ices and ice creams, either in molds or small paper forms – and of various colors, arranged to give a pleasing contrast of tint and flavor, such as vanilla, chocolate and orange, or peach lemon and pistachio, or any other combination the fancy might suggest.”
Where Fred Graeter learned this technique in Cincinnati is a mystery. He must have studied under a French or Italian confectioner, but who or where that was is unknown. Perhaps he was competing with the other soda fountain competitors like Mullane’s, and needed to differentiate.
But all that cool product development came to an abrupt end in 1896, when Fred became too sick to tend his business. He had a series of tragic events befall him. Starting in 1890, he and his wife lost their young twin sons Huber and Otto. Then, in 1891 he met with a terrible accident, where he had his right hand cut off by an engine. Finally, in 1891, his wife Laura was granted a divorce on the grounds of neglect (he made her work all day, even when ill and he paid her no attention). But, by 1893, Fred was remarried to Mary Beal.
Fred intended to sell the ice cream business to Robert Ochiltree and Charles Nolloth, but gave a preference option to his brother in California, for the purchase of the business at $2812. Louis Jr. took advantage of the opportunity. At 47, Louis took his brother up on the offer and returned to Cincinnati, leaving a second wife and son in back in California.
Then in 1900, Louis Jr., met and married Regina Berger, over 20 years his junior, and one of ten children of Anton Berger, an immigrant from Tyrol, Austria, who was president and operations manager of the Bantlin Company, a prominent saddle company in Cincinnati and also, President of the Calhoun Loan and Building Company. Aha – a father-in-law with available capital and ability to loan even more money to a growing business – score!
Louis and Regina moved the business to 967 McMillen Street, where they made ice cream and candy in the back, and sold them in the front, while living in the upstairs apartment. They even opened a second store at 351 Vine Street – a confectionary and oyster parlor, taking advantage of the ice needed for cooling both products.
Regina and Louis Charles Graeter
Fred recovered, and re-opened his confectionery on 419 Race Street, which he was still operating by 1909. But more tragedy struck. In 1909 his nephew, Theodore Chambers- who he had adopted after his mother died, and the same year his brother left for California – ran off with his money and was nowhere to be found.
One more tragedy would befall the Graeters. In 1919, Louis Graeter was hit by an automobile while he was exiting a streetcar and died. Regina, now a widow with two teenage sons, took over the business. She insisted upon the small batch, French pot ice cream method, which they still use today.
The business grew to 10 stores in Cincinnati by 1930, and the Tutti Frutti creations of Fred Graeter became long forgotten.