Our favorite foods and our best memories are inextricably linked. The flavor and aroma takes us back to those times of laughter, joy and camaraderie. And, what food is a better sweet memory starter than ice cream? What are your favorite ice cream memories? Running after the ice cream truck as its bell rings its way past your house? Sharing the cold sweetness with cousins at a summer family reunion?
Mine revolve around the ice cream freezer, because we always like to make our own. In fact, our hand-cranked ice cream freezer took on mythical importance to our family life. It was like an ice cream fount of goodness, the horn of plenty from which sprang sweet, creamy cold-on-a-hot-summer-day fun.
First there is the planning. Who shall we ask to come over and share? The only requirement there is that we can have a good time with them! Then, which recipe? That popular standby vanilla? One of the in-season fruits? Or should we get wild and crazy and make salted caramel, triple berry or cookie dough? The only requirements are FRESH, flavorful, delicious and, oh yes, FRESH!
I’ve always liked the cooked recipes. They have to be prepared the day before, but I always thought they made a creamier treat. Some of my friends like the raw recipes…some even throw the ingredients right in the freezer and mix them on the spot.
Then, there’s the churning. And this is where homemade ice cream aficionados get prickly.
The electric camp says, why do all the work? Let the freezer do the work, while we sit in the living room and socialize. The group of my friends that likes to do everything as a couple prefer this method. (Our electric freezers are more popular.)
The hand-cranked supporters, on the other hand, get “cranky” when talking about electric. For them, turning by hand is the only way to go. Their theory is that you can make better ice cream that way. Crank slow at first, then faster when the cranking gets harder, and the ice cream turns out mystically better. The group of my friends where the men like to gather separately from the women and show off a bit (because cranking fast when the ice cream hardens requires a good bit of macho showing off) prefer this method.
As for me, I’m bipartisan when it comes to ice cream. When people ask my advice about which freezer to buy, I take a firmly middle-of-the-road stance. If you’re a “sit in the living room and talk as couples” party-goer, then electric is the way to go. If you’re a “my same gender gets me” kind of party-goer, then hand-cranked is more fun. It naturally separates macho arm strength from, well, not macho, lower upper body strength.
And if there are children present, here are three ways to get them involved even from a young age. First, my dad always treated adding the rock salt as a very important task. It’s true that if you don’t add enough, the ice cream won’t harden. (It takes about 2 1/2 cups of ice melter.) He would add the ice, but let me know that adding the salt was too important for him. It required my personal attention.
We always used hand cranked growing up. Second, when the cranking got hard toward the end, they needed an eight-year-old to stand on the freezer and help hold it down. I still have distinct memories of standing there in the summer heat, feeling the cold penetrate through my shoes, while watching the strong backs of my dad and the other men I loved rhythmically rising and falling as they cranked the freezer handle.
But, the best place to involve kids is when you pull out the dasher. As it emerges from the ice cream container, covered in ice cream, each child was allowed to scrape off the excess. In the early days, I guess before we thought much about germs, we all dipped in with dirty fingers. Later, as mom asserted her authority over germs, spoons were required.
And that is the thing about ice cream. When it comes time to eat it, everyone comes together. When it’s time to dip out the results, hand-cranked vs electric partisanship is forgotten. Along with all our other differences. It’s sit, eat, laugh and share. Yummy!
Watch three generations of the Lehman family make hand-crank homemade ice cream (with outtakes at the end):