A frappe is a milkshake with ice cream in it. I know this because one of my first jobs was at Newport Creamery, which in the New Bedford of the 1970s was on Route 6 across from Buttonwood Park.

I washed dishes and bused tables for Newport Creamery alongside New Bedford's Mark T. Small, now an award-winning, internationally recognized musician.

In my younger days, I hand-packed my share of half-gallon ice cream containers and prepared a few banana splits, milkshakes, Awful Awfuls and frappes.

READ MORE: Friendly's Fribbles Were Once Also Called Awful Awfuls

When folks visited the restaurant from outside the area, they were often confused by menu items such as coffee milk and coffee milkshakes.

"What is coffee milk?" they would ask. "Is it not just coffee with milk in it?"

Sit down, lady. Let me explain.

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Since we were just a hop, skip and a jump from the border with the Ocean State, a customer might ask for a coffee cabinet. That would be a Rhode Islander in search of a frappe.

At first, I thought it was just someone being a wiseacre until the boss explained that Rhode Islanders think frappes are called cabinets.

The term frappe is almost uniquely a New England term. Rhode Islanders call them cabinets and may have invented the concoction.

In some parts of the country, milkshakes contain ice cream or are called milkshakes with ice cream.

Why Rhode Island Calls A Massachusetts Frappe A Cabinet
Friendly's via Facebook; Newport Creamery via Facebook

One of the earliest known references to a coffee cabinet was from Elmer E. Pierce in a 1903 edition of the publication The Spatula.

"A drink that has become the most popular is 'Coffee Cabinet,' consisting of coffee syrup, egg, plain cream, ice cream, and shaved ice thoroughly shaken," Pierce said. "This has often been called a meal in itself."

National Public Radio calls the coffee cabinet a "Rhode Island staple." NPR says the coffee cabinet as we know it today dates back to World War II but admits its origin and name "remain a mystery."

So why does Massachusetts call a frappe a frappe and Rhode Island call it a cabinet? The answer appears to be lost to history.

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