Fresh Ice Cream

As a boy I often spent the hot, dog days of summer on my aunt and uncles farm. After a long day of combining and chores we’d sit down at their kitchen table for supper. I remember the twinkle in my Aunt Margaret’s eye when she’d say, “We’ll make fresh ice cream after supper.”

Uncle Ed dragged the wooden bucket ice cream maker out to the porch. He poured in the ice, the fresh churned cream, eggs, sugar and salt. With a paring knife his rugged farmer hands carefully sliced into peaches picked that afternoon. “Ain’t nothin’ better than fresh peach ice cream,” he winked.

Then he began turning the hand crank handle, blades churning inside the bucket. Before long I’d ask to help and he motioned me over. I found it nearly impossible to turn the crank, but kept at it.

“Ready to take over again, Uncle Ed?” my exhausted voice intoned after several minutes struggle.

“Hard work ain’t it?” I nodded agreement. “Well worth it though,” he grinned.

The first taste out of the bucket, just to make sure it was ready, brought widened eyes. Then my aunt would scoop out huge bowls full. We’d sit on the porch watching the sun dip into the cornfield tassels, listening to the crickets and cicadas tuning up for their nocturnal symphony and enjoy the best fresh made ice cream I ever tasted.

Sitting here sweating in the heat and humidity the other day, I got a hankerin’ for home made ice cream and figured if there’s a time to talk about it, it’s now.

“Iced cream” was the term first used in North America by the colonists. In 1774, a New York caterer Phillip Lenzi, newly arrived from London, offered for sale various confections, including iced cream. Thomas Jefferson even had an ice cream recipe: “2 bottles of cream, 6 yolks of egg and ½ pound of sugar. Mix yolks & sugar.”

Aunt Sallie Shadd achieved legendary status among Wilmington, Delaware’s free black population as a maker of ice cream. President James Madison’s wife Dolly served Aunt Sallie Shadd’s ice cream at the President's Inaugural Ball in 1813.
In the late 1820s, African American Augustus Jackson left his position as a chef at the White House, moved to Philadelphia and created several popular ice cream flavors. He distributed it in tin cans to Philadelphia’s many ice cream parlors.

In 1846 Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked, wooden bucket freezer with rotary paddles. Turning the crank handle agitated the mixture in a bed of salt and ice until it was frozen. Using ice mixed with salt to lower and control the temperature of the ingredients was a major breakthrough in the creation of ice cream as we now know it. The device my Uncle Ed used in the 1950’s was virtually unchanged from Nancy Johnson’s creation 110 years earlier.

Clarence Vogt invented the first commercially successful continuous process freezer in 1926, allowing mass production of the product. In 1900 ice cream production reached 30 million gallons per year. Today the manufacture of both soft and hard ice cream exceeds more than one billion gallons a year, that’s a per capita consumption of more than 19 pounds.

So as the mercury crept closer to the top of the glass tube I began wondering where I could get a taste of fresh hand made ice cream as good as Uncle Ed and Aunt Margaret’s.

Established in 1957, “The Red Barn” on 9H is one of those quiet roadside eateries from another era. You expect to find a youthful Bette Davis or Joan Crawford waiting to serve you. I chose a stool at the counter and began scouring the menu’s frozen delights. Danielle and Ashley, the adorable young ladies I found working behind the counter, were enthusiastic about ice cream, black raspberry and cookies & cream their respective favorites.

“Lemon ice cream is the favorite here,” Danielle informs me, “because most people have never had it.” She releases a tender smile when she tells me about the couple who’ve stopped in every week for the past 35 years to enjoy a banana split.

I decided on two scoops, one fresh peach, one fresh banana and was immediately transported to my aunt and uncle’s front porch.

The lovely Alexys at “Brandow’s & Company” on Warren Street, Hudson was equally enthusiastic about the lengthy list of hand made ice cream flavors Chris Froese creates there. Alexys is partial to the butter pecan. “Oh, and we have tropical fruit flavors of sorbet, too,” she beams.

There are two other places in the area to get hand made ice cream, “Peoples” at Routes 9 & 20 in Nassau and Bev’s on Railroad Street in Great Barrington. They all offer cone, cup and packages to go.

Lots of places around have good hard packed and soft serve ice cream, but few offer the heavenly hand made variety, the kind that makes you want to kick back on the front porch and listen to the night creatures sing.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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