Friday, July 07, 2006

Ice cream memories

Both my mother and father were from a rural part of Western Kentucky. They, as did some of their brothers and sisters, went off to the big city to make their fortunes, but some of my fondest memories are the times we would load up our car and head "down in the country" for the weekends. With wax-paper wrapped fried egg sandwiches for when we got hungry, we would make the three hour trip, singing all the songs we knew and asking "when are we going to get there?"

One thing we knew would happen at some point any summer weekend: one of the daddies would get in the car and go the few miles down the road to the ice-house, and pick up a couple of big blocks of ice (one grandmother still had a true "ice box"). While one of the aunts would whip up the ice cream mixture, the men would take an ice pick and chip those blocks into a big washtub. The ice cream would go into the tank of a big crank-type freezer. Ice and rock salt would get packed around it. Then we would all take turns cranking, the youngest of us first, while it was still easy to turn. As it started to freeze, it took a bit more muscle, until the last few minutes had to be done by one of the daddies.

A towel would be draped across it while we consumed vast quantities of fried chicken, home-cured ham, homegrown veggies and salads.

Finally we would dip into the ice cream, and I’ll tell you, to this day I can’t think of anything better! Usually it would be vanilla, with berries, fruit, or homemade syrups to pour on top. If there were lots of us, there might be two freezers, and the second would be for the more adventurous: banana, peach, or pineapple.

I still have a freezer of the same size, although mine is electrically cranked. It makes a couple of gallons of ice cream, quite a lot for a dinner party at the house. And it’s still a lot of trouble. But if you love homemade ice cream, and haven’t discovered those you can find now with a cartridge that lives in your freezer until you need it, you have a treat in store! Available at most cookware and discount stores, it makes a quart, perfect for six to eight guests. I even ordered an extra cartridge, so I can offer two different flavors, if I want, since the freezing process takes only about a half-hour.

So pick up some fried chicken, make your favorite potato salad, and then treat your family and friends to homemade ice cream…and not just your normal vanilla! The black pepper ice cream will surprise you. A favorite dessert in Italy is strawberries with freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Here’s the ice cream ready for just the berries. And the brown sugar-ginger flavor will be good with any fresh fruit, or on its own with just a crisp cookie. Both need to be made in plenty of time to chill well before freezing, so take that into consideration. Both are just the right size for the cartridge type freezer. Your friends will feel so pampered—we won’t tell them how easy it was!

2 cups heavy cream
8 whole allspice berries, coarsely crushed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
In a heavy saucepan, combine cream, allspice berries and 1/4 cup sugar and bring just to a simmer. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture is thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Pour in the cream mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it lightly coats the back of a spoon. DO NOT LET BOIL! Remove from the heat and let stand for about 20 minutes, then strain though a fine sieve into another bowl. Chill thoroughly. Stir in the black peppercorns and the balsamic vinegar and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups half-and-half, warmed
1 tbsp ground ginger
Combine egg yolks, sugars and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk or beat until fluffy and light. Add the warm cream, whisking constantly. Whisk in the ground ginger. Transfer to a heavy pan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, and coats the back of a spoon. DO NOT LET BOIL! Pour into a bowl and chill thoroughly. Freeze in an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.

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