When I’m in the country, I’m a sucker for homemade ice cream. I don’t eat it much in the city, but get me around fresh air and insects and suddenly there’s nothing more appealing than a towering cone packed with some local ice cream flavor like Purple Cow or Almond Mocha Coffee Crunch. A couple of summers ago I went to a country fair in New Jersey and was thrilled when I saw that they were using a hand-crank ice cream maker to turn out soft, fresh, fruity ice cream. I wrote about the experience for the now-defunct Readymade magazine blog, and in the spirit of ice cream season, I’d like to share that post with you today.
Do you remember making homemade ice cream as a kid? I do. I must have been about five years old. We were all outside in the yard on a summer day after a cookout, and everyone was taking turns pushing the crank of an old fashioned ice cream maker, in anticipation of a fruity homemade delight. My sister and I were giggling a lot, getting tired out after two or three turns of the crank, and then running off to play with our poodle. Most of the hard work fell to my mom and my grandfather, who would’ve also been grill master for that day’s barbecue. I can’t say that I remember the exact taste of the ice cream, but I know it would have been soft, melting, not quite as sweet as what you buy in the store, and heavenly to my five year-old taste buds.
This memory surfaced recently while I was selecting items for my upcoming wedding registry, and I ran across the White Mountain ice cream maker, an old-fashioned hand crank machine housed in a large wooden barrel, with a churn that’s maneuvered by a simple hand crank. According to their website, the machines are handcrafted of white pine by the 150-year-old White Mountain Company. With a regular electric ice cream maker, you pour your mix into a bowl, press the “on” button, and let the machine whip your dessert in about thirty minutes. With the hand crank, you pour your mix into a bain marie that fits inside the barrel. You surround the bain with crushed ice and rock salt, lock down the lid, and then crank away, churning the ice cream with your own muscle power until it freezes, in anywhere from twenty minutes to a couple of hours, with the possibility that it may not freeze at all if you don’t have enough ice or salt. It seems obvious which one anyone in their right mind would choose, but then there’s the rest of us.
Personally, I’m a big fan of hand-powered gadgets, for the simple reason that they almost never break down. Also, they work just fine even when there’s no electricity. Call me crazy, but if we run out of oil like some are suggesting we might, those of us who make our pressed sandwiches with a cast-iron plank instead of a panini press are going to have the upper hand, by golly! The other day I did a cooking demonstration in New York’s Union Square Farmer’s Market; I made gazpacho using a hand-cranked blender, and it was surprisingly fun and easy. Admittedly, I wouldn’t want to have to power everything myself all the time, but I think these kind of items provide a healthy reminder of how much energy is required for a lot of the daily activities we take for granted, and how different life would be if we didn’t have electricity at our fingertips. Finally, in the case of an ice cream maker, it just might be advantageous to your waistline to buy one that requires a workout for every batch.
My fiance and I have gone back and forth about whether to include the White Mountain on our registry, or to opt for a more practical and inexpensive electric model (we picture the big green barrel sitting abandoned in the garage of our future house, collecting dust because we’re too lazy to use it). But the fascination remains. A few weeks ago, we drove to a country fair in rural New Jersey. At the entrance, there was a crowd gathered around a jovial-looking man dressed in eighteenth-century costume. Aided by the motor of a lawnmower rigged with a pulley, he was making a batch of strawberry ice cream in a White Mountain machine. Fascinated, I got right in with all the kids to see what he was doing up close. After a few moments, he proudly declared that the ice cream was ready, and pulled out the big metal churn covered in a thick layer of cream. We lined up with everyone else and paid a dollar for a bowl of freshly made ice cream. The ice cream was good, but the experience—and the memories—were priceless.
Strawberry Ice Cream, from the book Ice Creams & Sorbets by Lou Seibert Pappas, Chronicle Press (2005)
Makes: About 1 quart
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup half-and-half or milk
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 1/2 cups (about 1 1/4 pounds) fresh strawberries, hulled
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Prepare a large bowl or pan of ice water.
2. In the top of a double boiler, heat the cream and half-and-half over simmering water until steaming. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended, then whisk in 1/2 cup of the sugar. Whisk in about half the hot cream, and pour the yolk mixture into the pan of cream. Stir and cook over simmering water until the custard coats the back of a silicon spatula or spoon, about 10 minutes. Immediately place the custard pan in the ice bath and stir the custard occasionally until it cools to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mash the strawberries with a potato masher, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the juice, and let stand until the sugar dissolves. Stir into the custard and transfer to a container. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours.
4. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container, cover, and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.