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Best Ice Cream Shop

Donna Calloway Uses Ice Cream to Get People to Eat Their Vegetables

Jefferson Jackson Steele

By Mary K. Zajac | Posted 9/17/2008

At first glance, Dominion Ice Cream looks like any other ice cream shop. Pale green walls, a couple of tables, glass cases filled with different colors of frozen confections. But it's the poster advertising healthy eating through vegetables that hints that this is "not just a traditional ice cream parlor," as Dominion's owner, Donna Calloway will tell you. There are other clues as well. A sign behind the counter reads: "Create your own salad. Choose any three vegetable ice creams." And there, in the left corner of one of the freezers are four tubs of the softly speckled vegetable-based ice creams, their pale colors contrasting with the eggy yellow of French Vanilla and the neon pink and blue sprinkles of Birthday Cake, two flavors of the Hershey's ice cream that makes up the rest of Calloway's ice cream offerings.

Some folks dream of taking it easy once they retire, but Calloway dreamed of vegetable ice cream. She was still employed as a fleet manager at Zurich Insurance in 2005 when, while doing some housework at home, she started thinking about ice cream and how there are flavors based on fruits and nuts and even coffee, but none based on vegetables. "And as a little girl," Calloway confides, "I always loved vegetables." She decided to use her love of vegetables to make ice cream that both tasted good and was good for you.

The only problem was that Calloway, a petite woman with a strong and active Christian faith, had never made ice cream before. She threw herself into research and experimentation, practicing, she says, until she got her bearings. "It was frustrating trying to find the right ratio" of ingredients, Calloway explains. "I had to pray my way through it and ask God to help me." The process was made more challenging by the fact that Calloway didn't want the taste of the vegetables to come through in the ice cream "because, believe it or not," she says earnestly, "a lot of people don't like vegetables. I wanted to do it so I could include everyone whether they were a vegetable lover or not." (Early experiments with broccoli discounted that vegetable because Calloway was unable to mask its strong odor.)

Once Calloway had the basics down, she took early retirement after 30 years of service at Zurich and sold her home to finance Dominion Ice Cream. The small shop, tucked away in the bottom of an apartment building in the 3100 block of St. Paul Street, just east of the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, opened in September 2006.

Although she's a bit coy about her process, Calloway allows that the vegetables she uses--spinach, tomatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes--are not cooked, so their nutritional value is not compromised, and that she uses the entire vegetable (seeds, skin, and all) because of the nutrients found there.

"`Dominion' means restoring what was lost," she explains, and this ice cream "restores food nutrients." Spices and "flavors" (like vanilla) are added to help cut the vegetable taste, but not extra color, so the natural hues of the vegetables come through. Muscle Up (spinach) becomes a vivid spring green; Boney Coney (tomato), a pinkish salmon with tiny magenta streaks; while Sweet Tooth (sweet potato) comes out a pale tan, without the orange tones of the vegetable. Following Calloway's recipes, the vegetable ice creams are made off-premise sby a local dairy that uses milk that is free of artificial growth hormones.

As we talk, Calloway has me taste samples of the spinach and vanilla side by side, predicting that the vanilla will taste artificial after the "cleanness" of spinach. She hands me two spoons of ice cream and urges me to "rub it across your tastebuds." The vanilla ice cream is Hershey's French Vanilla and not her own homemade, so the experience is slightly skewed, but I still sense what she means. There's no trace of spinach in the green ice cream, only a crisp freshness and simplicity. With the exception of the sweet potato, which has faint spicy nuances of a sweet potato pie, all of the vegetable ice creams taste like vanilla, which is why Calloway refers to them as "varieties" rather than "flavors," and why she thinks that this is a great way to introduce something healthy into a treat that's often decadent. According to Calloway, the vegetable ice cream has eight grams of sugar, five grams of fat, 99 calories a serving, roughly a third of what you'd find in commercial products like Häagen-Dazs' Vanilla Bean, which has 26 grams of sugar, 18 grams of fat, and 290 calories per serving.

Response to the ice cream has been wholehearted. "Some say, `Oh no, I'm not gonna try it,'" Calloway reports, but "once they try it they like it. . . . Kids love this ice cream. They don't care about the vegetables--they just care about how it tastes. Adults can rationalize this, but not kids."

In the future, Calloway would like to offer varieties of ice cream made with corn and with beets. She'd also like to get the ice cream into more stores and especially into schools. But for now, she's thrilled to see her dream come to fruition. "I come from a place where I always want to help people and give back," she says quietly. "I want to leave a legacy. I want to make a difference in the world--even with something small like ice cream."

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