By Rick Houser –
When the sun stays in the sky the longest and the temperature is the hottest and the entire world is alive and the foliage is green, there is only one more thing that makes summer complete. That grand ingredient is homemade ice cream. My first memories are when my Dad and Grandpa would drive to Felicity to the Ice House and make a purchase of a large block of ice. This would be wrapped in a canvas or some burlap bags and would take up most of the trunk (or “boot” as Grandpa would refer to it.) Next was the acquisition of a large bag of rock salt. It took me a long time before I understood the need for salt in something so sweet but they bought it.
My Grandpa was in charge of the all-day ice cream task, or at least making the plans. The ice cream maker had a silver container that held the mixture that Grandma and Mom mixed up and made so sweet and rich. It was full of cream flavoring and lots of sugar (Mom was involved and as I’ve said before that was her secret ingredient.) The container would rest inside a wooden bucket with a couple of holes to allow water to drain away.
With the container filled with the sweet mixture, a paddle device was inserted that would turn inside and stir the contents. Once placed in the bucket, ice was needed to surround the container to help it freeze. This is where the block of ice came in. The men used the back side of an axe and a sledge hammer to shatter the ice into tiny pieces and it was placed around the container and salt was spread over the ice. Then a device was attached to the top of all that and on it was a crank that turned the paddles within and the making of ice cream was set into motion.
For the next hour or two there was the waiting and cranking. My brother Ben always yelled “first” on the cranking as he wanted to show Grandpa just how good he was at it. It seemed like all the men took their turns at cranking as the others broke more ice and added to the bucket as the ice melted along with adding more rock salt.
During all this work and the painful waiting for it to be complete, many, many stories were told, mostly by Grandpa, but not excluding anyone who was in attendance, as it did pass the time. At least once in the process and when it was Ben cranking, Grandpa would act surprised and shout “Benny you are cranking it backwards and that thaws out the ice cream! I forgot you are left handed. And now we will have to start cranking all over again!” Then he would laugh, as would the rest of us, and one could see my brother letting out a sigh of relief that it was only a joke.
When what seemed like a million cranks had passed the lid was removed and we all leaned in closer to get a look at that heavenly treat we were about to dip into. When declared ready, the entire scene sped up as the ladies had set up the dishes and silverware needed and had added cookies and cakes and beverages just in case there wasn’t enough sugar available for us.
When everyone there had a dish of the ice cream it seemed as if we all took a taste at the same time. Silence fell over the crowd and soon was replaced with a large approving smile from us all. In those days a person couldn’t go to a UDF and pick up a half gallon of whatever ice cream they desired. The ice cream came in one flavor as I recall and that was vanilla. From all I can remember vanilla not only was good but it was the greatest. Consider all the that went into just beginning the preparation and then spending most of a Sunday afternoon working up a good sweat, only to get a small dish and usually only one as your reward for your labors. With all taken into account, the ice cream was definitely award-winning.
Over the years things have changed and mostly for the good. I know my cousin Tom acquired an ice cream maker with an electric motor and the days of cranking were gladly gone. A container could be frozen in a little over a half-hour. This allowed Tom to have friends and family in all summer and his main draw would be homemade ice cream and we never got tired of being served either. By the way, there were still stories being told at these events.
Today I seldom hear of homemade ice cream at a person’s residence. Out here in the rural areas, small churches and even small communities will hold socials and serve several flavors and more than one dish to a customer as the times have changed but the main part of the event is a tried and true one. It seems like the easier it is to make the less it is made.
I guess folks today are too busy to wait for this special treat. One thing hasn’t changed and that is when there is a social or the ice cream gets made at home there are still the stories that get told while a person waits. Maybe that is the good and special ingredient that ice cream needs to enhance the flavor.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics, He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.