It's summertime ... and the livin' is Slurpee.
And not just Slurpee, but also Icee (actually a forerunner of Slurpee) and, if all was right with the world, frozen lemonadee and frozen strawberree and a whole bunch of other -ees, because if there's one thing we want in the summer in Southern Nevada, it's a treat with a name that sounds a little bit like a shiver.
Actually, Slurpee and Icee are the only literal -ee drinks, so you'll have to use your imagination for the rest. But you know the type - the frozen-but-still-liquid, carbonated-but-more-frozen, brain-freeze-inducing beverages that come out of the machine sort of like soft serve. (Although, since 7-Eleven has trademarked it, we guess that should be Brain Freeze, with a little r in a circle.)
The whole thing started with Icee; 7-Eleven licensed the technology 45 years ago next month and the rest, as they say, has been history. While 7-Eleven isn't telling us how many Slurpees have been sold in those four and a half decades, they do allow that every year enough are sold to fill 12 Olympic-sized pools.
Icee is still around, at some discount and convenience stores and in Coke and cherry flavors at Burger King. McDonald's has its Cherry Berry Chiller and Frozen Strawberry Lemonade, Taco Bell its Frozen Strawberry Lemonade, Strawberry Frutista Freeze and Mango-Strawberry Frutista Freeze.
And this year - for the first time nationally - 7-Eleven has introduced a low-cal, no-sugar Slurpee Light, which launched May 1 with Fanta Sugar-Free Mango. Following the company's tradition of rotating new flavors, sugar-free strawberry-banana will be available in July and Fanta Sugar-Free Cherry Limeade in August and September.
"Our whole focus this summer is around flavor variety for Slurpee, flavor deliciousness for Slurpee, with whatever format you want it - Slurpee Light or regular Slurpee," said Laura Gordon, the company's vice president of brand innovations, who clearly works in Slurpee's name at every opportunity.
Gordon said it took so long for the company to release the sugar-free option because "we've been working on getting the taste, the flavor, the consistency right." It's sweetened with Splenda, she said, because that's what customers said they preferred.
While you may be thinking right now about simply having a Slurpee, Gordon sees it as a Slurpee Experience, including the Brain Freeze ("the pleasure, the fun part of the brand"), the spoon/straw and the ability to mix and match flavors to get exactly the Slurpee you want. (And, studies have shown, 35 percent of Slurpee drinkers mix, 35 percent sometimes mix and 30 percent are purists. Coke is the No. 1 flavor, cherry No. 2.)
"All of those things sort of add up together," she said. "It's an icon because it's so individual to the person. Each person who tries a Slurpee takes their flavor, their favorite cup, their experience with their friends and puts it together in a way that just makes their day better.
"You have to be happy having a Slurpee. People want to pass that on."
Las Vegas resident Todd Wilbur passed it on, though not in a way that particularly pleases 7-Eleven's corporate types. Wilbur, author of the Top Secret Recipes series and website www.topsecretrecipes.com - and creator of the recipes in the book - cloned the cherry Slurpee recipe a few years back, after which he heard from the company's attorneys and learned about the Brain Freeze trademark. But the contact only left a Slurpee-sweet taste in his mouth.
"It's just a great refreshment," Wilbur said of the iconic treat. "Just reading about it, I started to crave one. That cherry flavor is just so good."
Of its enduring popularity, he said, "I think it's just a very simple, delicious refreshment. It tastes so good on hot days. Everybody wants a Brain Freeze."
Wilbur said he thinks 7-Eleven's sugar-free line was a good marketing move, although he personally doesn't like sugar-free drinks.
"With any sort of drink, go for the sugar," Wilbur advised. "That Mexican Coca-Cola that has the actual cane sugar? That's the way to go."
In moderation, of course.
TOP SECRET RECIPES VERSION OF 7-ELEVEN CHERRY SLURPEE
2 cups cold club soda
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon cherry-flavored unsweetened Kool-Aid mix
½ teaspoon cherry extract
2½ cups crushed ice
Pour 1 cup of the club soda into a blender. Add the sugar, Kool-Aid mix and cherry extract. Blend this until all of the sugar is dissolved.
Add the crushed ice and blend on high speed until the drink is a slushy, smooth consistency, with no remaining chunks of ice.
Add the remaining club soda and blend briefly until mixed. You may have to stop the blender and use a long spoon to stir up the contents.
If necessary, put the blender into your freezer for a half-hour. This will help thicken the drink. After a half-hour, remove from freezer and, again, blend briefly to mix.
Makes one 32-ounce drink (or two 16-ouncers).
- Recipe from Todd Wilbur, TopSecretRecipes.com
FROZEN VIRGIN MARY
3 cups ice cubes
2 cups vegetable juice, chilled
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon (or to taste) prepared white horseradish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon (or to taste) hot pepper sauce
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a blender, combine ice, vegetable juice, lemon juice, horseradish, Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce and black pepper and blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses.
- Recipe from Good Housekeeping
FROZEN WATERMELON SLUSH
3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
1 cup frozen strawberries
2 scoops lemon sorbet
¼ cup pineapple juice, chilled
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
In a blender, combine watermelon, strawberries, sorbet, pineapple juice and lime juice and blend until mixture is smooth. Pour into glasses.
- Recipe from Good Housekeeping
FROZEN ICED TEA
4 scoops orange sorbet
2 cups strong brewed black tea, at room temperature
In a blender, combine sorbet and tea and blend until mixture is smooth. Pour into glasses.
Variations: Lemon or passionfruit sorbet can be used instead of orange.
- Recipe from Good Housekeeping
CAPE COD COOLER
8 ounces white grapefruit juice
1 large scoop orange sherbet
Put grapefruit juice and sherbet in a blender. Blend for a few seconds on high speed, or until ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Recipe from Ocean Spray
2 cups Concord grape juice (bottled or frozen concentrate)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup frozen dark sweet pitted cherries
½ tablespoon of cinnamon
½ cup plain nonfat yogurt (optional)
Process all in a blender until smooth. Pour over crushed ice.
- Recipe from Welch's
KID-FRIENDLY FROZEN SANGRIA
1 gallon cranberry juice
1 12-ounce can frozen limeade, thawed
1 2-liter bottle lemon-lime soft drink
2 cups sliced oranges, lemons and limes
Place one 2-gallon zip-top plastic freezer bag inside another 2-gallon zip-top plastic freezer bag. Place bags in a large bowl.
Combine cranberry juice, limeade and lemon-lime soft drink in the inside bag. Seal both bags and freeze 24 hours. (Double bagging is a precaution to avoid spills.)
Remove mixture from freezer 1 hour before serving, squeezing occasionally until slushy. Transfer mixture to a 2-gallon container. Stir in fruit.
Makes about 1½ gallons, or 24 servings.
- Recipe from Southern Living
1/3 cup Ice Blue Raspberry Lemonade Flavor Kool-Aid
1 cup water
1 tray ice cubes made with Kool-Aid
Place all ingredients in blender; blend until smooth.
- Recipe from Kraft Foods
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.