It’s the Fourth of July weekend. Get out the ice cream bucket and freeze some ice. Don’t forget to buy the rock salt. It’s time for homemade ice cream.
My family did it the old-fashioned way. It’s just not properly made unless it’s hand cranked. You have to use a wooden bucket. White Mountain brand, to be exact. Wood helps the moisture “breathe” and produces a better ice cream. That’s what Grandma said.
July was birthday month in our family. We gathered sometime in the middle of the month to celebrate all the July birthdays. Mom or Grandma would cook up Grandma’s recipe of a vanilla based custard type early in the morning so it would have time to properly cool. Don’t even mention making chocolate. What a travesty. Weeks before, my mother had rinsed out, filled with water and set in the freezer several cardboard half gallon milk cartons. Thirty minutes and counting, my step-dad laboriously broke the frozen water into ice shavings with a hammer and icepick. Why would you want to spend money on store bought ice?
Somewhere in the history, the family began to use real vanilla procured from across the Mexican border at a liquor store. My family were teetotalers but frugality won over propriety. How can you argue with $3 for a quart of vanilla?
It’s show time! Mom brought out the canister and placed it in the wooden bucket. Grandpa and my brother filled the bucket with ice and rock salt. An old blanket was placed on top. We were ready to crank. Oh wait, one more thing. The youngest child had to sit on top to stabilize the bucket. Um, that would be me. Even at age 35 when I traveled home for my grandmother’s funeral, I was still sitting on that bucket. My reward was getting to lick the plastic blade removed before more ice and salt found its way around the canister to keep the mix frozen before we were ready to eat it. At 35, I refused the indignity of standing in the middle of the yard, licking the dasher.
Grandma would dip her spoon into the open canister and taste a bit from the spoon’s tip, rolling it in her mouth. The spoon suspended in mid-air. “Daddy cranked it too fast. It’s too grainy.” Every time. She said it every time.
Have I said yet that my family was frugal? Tight would be a kind word. My mother could make a whole chicken last three meals for a family of five. My grandmother saved elastic from worn out clothing to repair worn out elastic on other clothing – whether or not it was the proper size of elastic. My mother watched over the food supply with an eagle eye. I got in trouble once for eating a banana before lunch because I was hungry. She had calculated how long those bananas ought to last and my greed messed up her math. Yet when it came to homemade ice cream, why you just weren’t doing your family duty if you stopped with one bowl.
As part of my home economics training in college, I took a food preparation course. Excited, I shared with my family the scientific way of making ice cream. You were supposed to start out quickly, sixty rotations per minute. Then as the ice cream hardened, you were to slow your motion to sixty cranks per two minutes. A steady turn was the best guarantee. I tried to share my new found knowledge with my family, but my words were met with rolled eyeballs and hoots of laughter. “We’ve been making homemade ice cream for how many generations and you’re telling US how to make it?”
Now my daughter and my brother have found a new contraption that not only is electric but doesn’t take ice or salt. Come on guys. It’s not the same. But it’s so easy, they say. You can make it in half an hour and make just enough for yourself.
That’s the problem.
My childhood had its share of unhappy moments. For many years, I focused on the darker moments and convinced myself there were no good memories. Then I remembered the ice cream. Homemade ice cream drew us together. We were all involved in reaching the common goal of that bucket of ice cream; each of us had our specific role in making it happen. Even if all I did was sit on that bucket, I had a part in the process. Our efforts showcased who we were— a hardworking, frugal loving family that found pleasure in simple things and a handful of time honored traditions. It was at the center of any family gathering, whether July birthdays, Thanksgiving, or Grandma’s funeral. It was the benchmark of happy moments. Around the ice cream bucket, we were carefree, happy, and relaxed. Ice cream was the spoonful of grace I needed to forgive the past and focus on the good moments.
Will I post Grandma’s recipe for homemade Mexican vanilla ice cream for you? Are you kidding? Don’t even ask! (But if I can find my recipe for homemade lime sherbet that I made with my husband and daughters with , shh, an electric ice cream maker, I’ll post it on my recipe blog!) I think the family would shoot me for sharing Grandma’s secret recipe. Then they would have to make ice cream to serve at my funeral dinner.