Famous Pa. Farm Show milkshake turns 65

There is a reason to twist, shout and shake it some at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg every January.

It’s for the no-frills milkshake by the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association. The shake does not veer into any unfamiliar flavor territory, nor does it have fancy toppings. Instead it comes in a 16-ounce plastic cup in three flavors — vanilla, chocolate and the mixed (half vanilla and half chocolate). And year after year, it’s consistent — thick, creamy, cold, comforting and heavenly.

When the 102nd Farm Show opens on Saturday, in addition to celebrating the commonwealth’s agricultural industry and those who make it thrive, the eight-day event will be marking the 65th anniversary of the famed milkshake.

At the Food Court’s peak chow times, it’s normal to see at least six lines each with 20 people waiting to pick up a milkshake at the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association booth. Sometimes it is not just for one shake; those employed near the Farm Show Complex are known to buy 20 to 50 of them at a time to take back to work.

Last January, the Dairymen’s booth sold 165,000 milkshakes, which was thousands more than the 5,000 slices of chocolate-covered bacon, 5,000 barbecue pork sandwiches and 1,000 whoopie pies by the PennAg Industries Association; 8,700 mushroom blend burgers by the Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania; 6,600 bags of maple cotton candy by the Pennsylvania Maple Syrup Producers; and 10,000 apple dumplings by the Pennsylvania State Horticulture Association. Only the PA Cooperative Potato Growers booth surpassed the milkshake dominance, selling just shy of 24,000 dozen potato doughnuts.

When the Dairymen’s Association first started selling the shake, it used to be done the old-fashioned way. Fae Snyder, 85, of Camp Hill, who has volunteered at the booth for all the 65 years, recalls the earliest version being made with bricks of ice cream, vanilla or chocolate flavoring and milk. “It was done just the way drugstores used to it in the old days. We would put the ice cream in a cup, add whatever flavor we were making and some milk. It was then put in a five-spindle machine, spun around and the milkshake was ready. Now, we use a mix,” she says.

The Dairymen switched to an ice cream product mix with a higher butterfat content in the 1960s to keep up with the growing demand for the shakes.”It’s made with milk, flavoring products and a small amount of sugar,” says Dave Smith, executive director of the association.

The mix has not been the only change made over the years. The twist was added in the 1990s, and the shake that once cost 25 cents is now $4. But the 16-ounce size has been consistent, Mr. Smith says.

As part of the Farm Show’s centennial celebrations, the Dairymen released a strawberry and cream shake in 2016, but it was laid to rest after that, and it was back to vanilla, chocolate and the mixed. People do request either having the vanilla placed at the top or bottom in the mixed and it is accommodated if there is time, Ms. Snyder says. But when someone asks for vanilla and chocolate in multiple layers, Ms. Snyder draws the line and says, “No, we cannot do that.”

The longtime volunteer works at the dairy booth every day of the event and “helps out with whatever is needed.” She says she drinks a fair share of milkshakes, adding “I do have to watch my calories,” with a laugh.

Although the Farm Show opens only on Saturday, the Food Court will be open on Friday from noon to 9 p.m., and parking is free only on that day (it is $15 otherwise). At the dairy booth, celebrity servers will join the 65th celebration between 1 and 3 p.m., and the public is encouraged to donate to the Fill a Glass With Hope campaign that provides milk to food banks in the state.

Arthi Subramaniam: asubramaniam@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.


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