Shenandoah Gemstones Part 4: Bella Gelato; Don’t Argue With A Crazy Person

The Great Littre Dictionary

(Now, this post involves a crazy person, so you’ll find that this post is one part gelato review and one part random history lesson!)

Bella Gelato is Chrizar’s old stomping ground where she got her start in her baking career. So, we couldn’t visit Harrisonburg without checking out this frozen treat gemstone where the dairy and coffee beans are supplied locally.

We love that you can see into the kitchen, a tidy area dusted with flour and a gelato maker that has seen quite a bit of mileage.

The flavors here are pretty unique: Toasted Almond Coconut, Mint Stracciatella, Brown Butter Cookie Dough, Candied Lemon and Cardamom, and the glorious Bourbon Toffee Espresso. There are also the classic flavors as well as an assortment of baked goods and strongly brewed coffee.

My top two favorite flavors are the Candied Lemon and Cardamom and the “Bourbon Toffee Espresso.”

Bourbon Toffee Espresso Gelato
Bella Gelato’s Bourbon Toffee Espresso Gelato with house made waffle piece.

Their gelato is creamy in consistency, not overwhelmingly sweet, and loaded with flavor. The Candied Lemon and Cardamom was a flavor surprise; it’s tart and spicy, and the lemon flavor is distributed very well. The Bourbon Toffee Espresso, I would say, had an equal balance of coffee and toffee flavor with a touch of bourbon. Little toffee pieces are distributed about. I consumed this along with a naturally sweet latte.

The verdict? I can’t decide which flavor I liked better. I had both twice during my stay!

My top two favorite flavors are the Candied Lemon and Cardamom and the “Bourbon Toffee Espresso.”

And then, as I was happily eating my treats, Chrizar gets up for a moment, then returns to our table with a guest:

“Christine, this is Crazy Tom!” she says.

Crazy Tom is a tall older gentleman wrapped up in a faded coat that was either once green or had always been grey. He throws his hat into the armchair next to me, and says, “Stay there!” He then looks at me and says, “I bet you didn’t expect me to talk to my hat!”

As a New Yorker, I unfortunately expect the unlikely, so I shrugged and said something along the lines of, “It’s okay; I talk to inanimate objects all the time!” Shoo! I apologize to my meats when I cook them.

Crazy Tom is a bit of a local legend. He’s a sweet man with many cats, one of which unfortunately has an eyeball hanging out after a mysterious injury. He walks about town telling people absurd stories. No one knows if they’re true or not, but they’re so compelling that you have to listen.

After Chrizar catches up with him about his family, he asks us, “Do you know the origin of the croissant?”

I’m not entirely sure, but I vaguely remember hearing about it on the Great British Bake Off that the origin was middle eastern, so I said, “The Middle East?”

Do you know the origin of the croissant?

“No, it’s the Ottoman Empire!”

“Wasn’t that part of the Middle East?”

“Shut up! Don’t argue with a crazy person!”

We all laugh, so we let him continue his story, paraphrased as something like this:

“So, in the 1600s, Budapest was under attack by the Turks. They were going to sneak into the city by digging underground passages into the town. But what they didn’t know was that Austrian bakers worked in the middle of the night, so they were able to hear the Turks burrowing underground.

“The bakers sounded the alarm, making it possible for Austrian citizens to scare off and fight back the Turks. In honor of the bakers’ bravery, the bakers created a crescent shaped bread to look like crescent on the Turkish flag.

“And that’s the story of the croissant!”

Crazy Tom graces us with big warm hugs, God’s blessings, and scoops up his green hat. When he leaves, another customer beside us turns around and says, “Did he just tell you a story about the origin of the croissant?”

“Yep,” Chrizar and I say.

“Just so you know, that story is bullshit! None of that is true!”

We laughed so hard. So, what is the real origin of the croissant?

Crescent shaped breads have been around since antiquity. However, the croissant as we know it is a modern invention with Austrian beginnings, but not necessarily an Austrian tradition.

The popularity of the Turkish/Austrian legend began with the 1938 book The Larousse Gastronomique. It stated, “This delicious pastry originated in Budapest in 1686, when the Turks were besieging the city. To reach the centre of the town, they dug underground passages. Bakers, working during the night, heard the noise made by the Turks and gave the alarm. The assailants were repulsed and the bakers who had saved the city were granted the privilege of making a special pastry which had to take the form of a crescent in memory of the emblem on the Ottoman flag.” It’s a nice story, and the same one Crazy Tom told us, but it’s also very unlikely.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, the earliest allusions to the French Croissant was in an 1853 book called “Des Substances Alimentaires”, then in an 1863 book “The Great Littre Dictionary, and finally in an 1875 book called “Les Consommations de Paris”. Even during this time, the layered buttery pastry had no resemblance to the croissant we love today.

…the yeast-raised croissant could not have existed during the 1600s besiege of Budapest.

In addition to these minor references, the invention of manufactured yeast by Austrian-Hungarian entrepreneurs Charles and Maximilian Fleischmann only became commercially available in the late 1860s. Based on this fact, the yeast-raised croissant could not have existed during the 1600s besiege of Budapest. Additionally, the Fleischmann brothers’ invention of commercial yeast was a product they developed in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The modern day croissant in all of its complexity and deliciousness appeared in 1906 in Colombie’s “Nouvelle Encyclopedie Culinaire”, and by then was developing into a French national symbol. So, the croissant’s development seems more like a collaborative invention popularized in France.

I know I went as far off topic as Crazy Tom did in his cat stories! Going back to Bella Gelato: wonderful treats, excellent coffee, and excellent gelato flavors! I want to experiment with these flavors in other things; perhaps muffins, cakes, and pies.


Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 232. via Lynne Olver (ed.). “Croissants”. The Food Timeline.

“Living: Croissant Vite” Archived 25 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Time. 8 September 1980

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