Few desserts surpass ice cream when it comes to nostalgia. A trip to the ice cream parlor still makes you feel like a kid regardless of your actual antiquity, and the tinny sound of the ice cream truck meandering through the neighborhood sends children screaming for Rocket Pops while parents wistfully remember their own childhood Good Humor man. The most nostalgic of all memories for some of us, though, are the warm summer evenings spent making homemade ice cream.
Taking turns at the reluctant crank, a smaller sibling with a chilled bottom sitting on the lid, was a special treat, usually occurring on a front porch on a sleepy Saturday night. The speed in which the frozen concoction -- made sweeter by the sore arms and tired shoulders -- was consumed, compared to the time invested creating it, helped the memory of the sugary cream grow to sepia-toned legendary proportions.
While the ice cream machines of old are now usually found only in antique shops with their bottoms rusted out, it's not too late to take part in the hand-cranked ice cream experience. If you ask around, someone is bound to have one in a closet somewhere, and an industrious sweettooth would be able to make one with little trouble. Most of the metal machines consist of two cans of even height, one inside the other (think double boiler), with a socket in the bottom of the inner can. A lid fits over the outside of the smaller, inner can, and a paddle attached to a crank fits through the lid and into the container. Finely chipped ice or snow is packed into the space between the two cans about three inches thick, and then a layer of rock salt (found at feed stores and Home Depot, if not at the grocery store) an inch thick, and so on and so forth until the layers are within an inch of the top of the inside can. The rock salt helps the cream get good and cold.
A recipe for basic vanilla ice cream is as follows:
1 quart milk
1 cup sugar
3 whole eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla or one vanilla bean
Scald the milk in a double boiler (it's scalded when the outside water boils). If using a vanilla bean, add it to the milk while heating and remove before adding anything else. Beat the eggs and sugar together and stir the milk into the mixture slowly. Return to the double boiler and stir CONSTANTLY until the mixture coats the spoon. Don't let it boil or it will curdle. Let cool, and add vanilla flavoring.
In keeping with the nostalgic theme, this recipe was taken from the 1895 Century Cookbook by Ms. Mary Ronald. For those who don't eat eggs, an alternative is what Ms. Ronald calls Philadelphia-style cream, made with one cup of sugar and one quart of cream, plus flavor.
Pour the sugary custard into the inner can, slap on the lid, sit your kid sister on it for good measure, and crank. Crank like you never cranked before, like you never thought you could. Take turns. Play music and keep in time. Don't let up, don't let it freeze to the side of the can.
The more you stir, the more you improve the consistency of the ice cream. This is hard work, but think of the calories you're burning. When it reaches a fine frozen yet malleable state, add your goodies -- candy, fruit, whatever. Level out the top of the cream and let stand for a minute or two. There, you're done. Grab a bowl and enjoy.
If you can't find a genuine hand-crank ice cream maker, there are plenty on the market designed for ease in preparation. The electric ones you don't even have to stir, and none seem to require rock salt, or even ice, really. There's also a recipe floating around the Web touting the virtues of liquid nitrogen in ice cream preparation. These methods take less time and are just as effective, but aren't anywhere near as fun. Besides, where will your kid sister sit?