Roger Bassett, 51, flips open a freezer door and uses a round metal scoop to dig elbow-deep into a blue and white cardboard tub, emerging with a mound of vanilla bean-speckled ice cream. He packs the creamy dessert into a wafer cone before releasing the crowning dip from the scoop with a quick twist of his wrist.

The technique comes from years of scooping experience by Roger, among the fifth generation of Bassetts to serve ice cream over the marble counter of Bassetts Ice Cream stand in the historic Reading Terminal Market of Philadelphia, Pa. Founded in 1861, Bassetts is America’s oldest ice cream company and has been serving the frozen treat in the market since 1893.

“Even in hard times, we’ve never changed the recipes or cheapened the ingredients,” says Roger, who was 11 when he began working at Bassetts with his father, David. He now works alongside his son, Eric, 18, and cousin Michael Strange, the company’s president.

Bassetts was started by Lewis Bassett, a schoolteacher in Salem, N.J., who began his summertime business with dairy cows and a mule that pulled the crank on a giant ice cream-making machine in his backyard. Lewis’ grandson and namesake perfected the company’s high-butterfat, all-natural confection and some of its most popular flavors, including rum raisin, Irish coffee, cinnamon and its signature Philadelphia-style vanilla loaded with specks of vanilla bean. For most of the company’s history, the ice cream was made in the basement of Reading Terminal Market. As demand increased in the early 1970s, production moved to larger facilities elsewhere in Philadelphia.

Bassetts Ice Cream is a Philadelphia-style ice cream. While most ice creams are made with egg yolk, the ice cream is made without it, which leads to an emphasis on the taste of fresh cream. This style of ice cream also features vanilla bean specks in vanilla flavor, which sets  Bassetts Ice Cream apart from other brands.

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