Summertime Memories

As I remember, that Saturday dawned hot and sultry. But, as a nine year old, the July heat of summer wasn't the burden that those muggy days would become for air conditioned dependant adults. So what if it was like a blast furnace outside, I'd been looking forward to this day for months.

In preparation for the parade that would wind down Lake Road, the night before had been spent carefully weaving red, white and blue crepe paper through the spokes of my freshly washed Schwinn American bike. And while I looked forward to the parade, it was only the precursor of the main event that came later in the day, and I think what I really anticipated was the END of the parade so that the Fourth of July celebration could begin in earnest.

There were two elements that coalesced to make the day the biggest day of summer on the importance calendar. The first was that long brown rectangular box that would mysteriously appear towards the end of June. In some cloak and dagger fashion, my father would procure the illicit contraband from a friend who knew a friend who had a cousin in Kentucky where you could buy fireworks. The box was always brought in secretly, but my brother and I knew the hiding place, and starting shortly after Memorial Day, we'd do a daily check to see if the package had "arrived". We knew that after the parade, that box would be brought down into the kitchen, and the firecrackers inside would be doled out like Halloween candy, while the more spectacular rockets, roman candles and aerial bombs would be reserved for nightfall. The afternoon would be spent in the throes of explosive joy, while I raced around the yard, planting explosive charges in the rose garden, and blowing on the cork punk to assure a quick light of the fuse. A goodly number of plastic soldiers and badly assembled models would face destruction, as we kept a careful lookout making sure that the police hadn't been alerted to our endeavors. And as the last firecracker shredded itself on the back lawn, I knew it was time for culinary preparations to begin.

It is a marvelous bit of serendipity that the garden yields strawberries just in time for July Fourth. The strawberry is a unique fruit, as it bears it seeds on the outside, rather than on the inside. Strawberries were already being eaten by Native Americans when the Pilgrims arrived, and it is thought that their mixing the berry pulp with oatmeal and baking bread was the forbearer of our own strawberry shortcake. The bright red color and heart shape of the strawberry made it the symbol of Venus, goddess of love. And as the world's number one producers of strawberries, it is clear that we love them a LOT. But I digress. While that tasty berry's history may be of some interest, what drew my attention as a nine year old is the magic that would occur with a bit of kitchen alchemy. Some sugar, gobs of heavy cream, some muscle power in conjunction with ice and rock salt, and in short order I would be licking fresh strawberry ice cream off the dasher of the old White Mountain ice cream freezer.

The process of making ice cream is simplicity itself, which is perhaps the source of the fascination I had with the process. Strawberries, fresh from the garden were first hulled, and then mashed. A mixture of sugar and cream is blended until the sugar dissolves and then the mashed strawberries are added. No cooking, just a little measuring and mixing. The ice cream base is added to the freezer container, into which is placed a paddle like device (dasher) that scrapes the sides as the mechanism is cranked and the freezer container rotates. The freezer container is placed into the refrigerator bucket, which is packed with layers of ice and rock salt. Somehow, magically, this causes the temperature to drop significantly below freezing.

With everything in place, the cranking begins. The container turns in the freezer bucket, as the dasher scrapes the freezing mixture from the inside of the freezer container. In the process, air is slowly folded into the freezing mixture, giving the ice cream its creamy, fluffy texture. On a hot July afternoon, turning that crank could work up quite a sweat. But in the end, there was a huge payoff. Cold and creamy, sweet and fruity, homemade ice cream. No preservatives or carabeanum. No red dye No. 2. Just our garden fresh strawberries. The soft mixture would be packed in a gallon Tupperware, and left to rest in the deep freeze where the ice cream would harden, ready to be scooped out after a feast of burgers, dogs, baked beans, potato salad and brownies.

As the sky grew dark, my father would begin lighting the fuses on the "big stuff". While I would have loved to assist as a pyrotechnical engineer, such dangerous activities were reserved for the adults. So, resigned to the spectator gallery, amid the oohs and ahhs for various fountains and roman candles, I couldn't be happier as I sat with my huge bowl of that wonderful cold creamy mixture, with a noticeable stiffness in my shoulder.

Even now, a number of years later, I still enjoy both making and eating homemade ice cream. The old White Mountain freezer has long since been retired, consigned to a house sale. The technological marvel of the Il Gelato machine, with its self contained freezer and powerful electric motor, has eliminated the cranking (and sore shoulder), but nevertheless, licking the dasher will still bring back that flood of memories. And in the process, I find that no matter how much things have changed, they are nevertheless the same. There's still the parade, although the Schwinn American has gone the way of the White Mountain freezer. There's still the burgers, dogs, baked beans and brownies. My fascination for the pyrotechnics has never diminished (especially since now I can shoot off the "Big Stuff"). And, of course, there's still that fresh ice cream; just sugar, fresh berries, heavy cream, some kitchen alchemy and a life time of memories.

Strawberry Ice Cream

2 cups Heavy Cream
2/3 cup Half and Half
¾ cup Sugar
¼ tsp. almond extract (optional- but a great addition)
1 pint fresh strawberries (preferably still warm from the garden)
1/3 cup Sugar

Rinse and hull the berries, slice and mix with 1/3 cup of sugar. Using a hand held potato masher, mash the berries into a coarse pulp. Mix ¾ cup of sugar into the half and half and heavy cream, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the berry mash and combine completely. Pre-chill the mixture 2 hours in the refrigerator, then freeze according to the instructions of your freezer.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 12, Posted 10:10 AM, 06.03.06