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Our love affair with ice cream never cools

Published Sep. 10, 2005

(ran SP, NP, ST editions)

June Whitehead remembers the days when it took a village to make a few quarts of ice cream.

As a child in Smithville, a tiny town of 400 outside Tupelo, Miss., her job was to sit on top of the bucket-shaped ice cream freezer so it wouldn't scoot around while family and friends took turns rotating the hand crank.

Life was slower back then, and many families performed the ritual of freezing snowy, sweet cream under shade trees and on porches on hot summer days.

"Making ice cream was an event," said John Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. "It was something that required participation from friends, family or neighbors because no one had the arm strength to crank the ice cream over the time period it took to freeze it.,"

Like air-conditioning, which lured neighbors off their front porches in the afternoons, homemade ice cream gatherings became a victim of modern technology.

Electric freezers replaced the hand crank, and the process of making homemade ice cream became a one- or two-person show.

"I remember making it on the front porch," said Nancy Turney, who grew up outside Arkadelphia, Ark. "It was a big gathering of friends, and I sat on a quilt on top of the freezer. I used to scoot all over the porch. I'd get replaced by a heavier kid when the cranking got harder.

"Now, we just make it whenever we have a big family gathering, and I'll usually do it in the sink, and nobody gets to sit on it."

When Whitehead got married in 1957, the first appliance the new couple purchased was a hand-crank ice cream freezer.

"It was a time to bond with neighbors and friends,"said Whitehead, 66. She received a recipe for "tutti frutti" ice cream from her neighbor Reba Trout, which is still her family's favorite.

"It used to be hard to wait for the ice cream to be solid because my five kids would beat their bowls with a spoon and holler 'Ice cream! Ice cream!' until we opened it up and gave them some," she said.

Though the hand crank, which requires crushed ice and rock salt, is used now mostly for holidays or

fun family gatherings, Americans still have a love affair with ice cream.

Consumers spent $38-billion in supermarkets on ice cream in 1999. The sale of super premium ice creams, or those with a fat content of 18 percent or more, increased by 19 percent in 1999 compared with 1998 figures, said David Landau, spokesman for the trade group.

"The super premium ice creams are rich and creamy, and people want to indulge," said Landau. "We don't know whether they compensate for that indulgence somewhere else, but people like to treat themselves, and there are so many choices."

Stoney Ramsey, 37, said he is hounded by friends to make his decadent Butterfinger ice cream. Ramsey makes it in an electric freezer in his garage, but he wishes he could give his three little girls the same experience he had as a child making vanilla ice cream with his family.

"I used to beg to turn the handle," said Ramsey. "My brothers and I would fight over whose turn was next, but, 5 minutes into it, my arm would be worn out, and I'd be begging for a break."

Ramsey's recipe was given to him by a friend. Most old-fashioned ice cream recipes are based on whole milk, heavy whipping cream and eggs. Some recipes used raw eggs, but boiled custard can be substituted. The ingredients were usually brought to a slow boil on the stove, then cooled and poured into the ice cream freezer.

People looking to cut calories and fat have found substitutes in skim milk and low-fat condensed milk. Others try to make up for the lack of creaminess by adding fresh berries or making a sherbet.

Part of the appeal of making ice cream in the summer is all the fresh fruits that are available to add, said Edge, author of Southern Belly: the Ultimate Food Lover's Companion to the South (Hill Street Press; $24.95).

"I grew up in Georgia so, of course, peach ice cream was poplar," Edge said. "I don't think the love of homemade ice cream is particular to the South. It's just that we have such a longer ice cream season because it stays hot for so darn long. You could convince your friends and neighbors to help you crank because there was such a great payoff in the end."

Burma Boggan's Vanilla Ice Cream

6 whole eggs beaten with \ teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1{ quarts whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 pint whipping cream

Add sugar and milk to eggs and cook on low to medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture begins to coat the spoon. Be careful not to scorch.

Set aside, allowing to cool a bit before putting into refrigerator to complete cooling.

After mixture is cooled, add vanilla and whipping cream. Pour into ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes 4 quarts.

Source: Gay Bianchi.

Aunt Lottie's Peach Ice Cream

3 cups peeled peaches (about 8 medium)

2 cups sugar

1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk

1 cup whipping cream

3 egg whites, beaten until stiff

2 quarts whole milk

1 drop red food coloring

Blend peaches in blender until fairly smooth. Stir in sugar and condensed milk. Beat whipping cream and beaten egg whites into peach mixture. Pour into ice cream freezer. Stir in 2 quarts of milk and food coloring. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes 4 quarts.

Note: Other fresh fruits can be substituted and crushed in blender. If using less-sweet fruits such as strawberries, chop them up and mix with { cup sugar in a bowl. Let sit for several hours before putting in blender.

Source: Nancy Turney.

Butterfinger Ice Cream

2 cups sweetened condensed milk

} cup smooth peanut butter

6 cups whole milk

1 pint heavy whipping cream

6 2.1-ounce Butterfinger candy bars

Stir condensed milk and peanut butter together until smooth. Mash Butterfinger bars until mixture is crumb consistency and add to mixture. Add milk and whipping cream and pour into ice cream freezer. If not to fill line, add more milk. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes 6 quarts.

Source: Stoney Ramsey.

Miss Reba's Tutti-Frutti Ice Cream

1 large can evaporated milk

1{ quarts whole milk

2{ cups sugar

Juice from 2 oranges

Juice from 2 lemons

3 well-ripened bananas, (chopped)

1 small can crushed pineapple (drained)

Pour all ingredients into freezer container and stir. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes 2 quarts.

Source: June Whitehead.

Spence Special Sherbet

1 46-ounce can red Hawaiian Punch

1 16-ounce can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup (include syrup)

2 13-ounce cans evaporated milk

2 6-ounce cans orange juice concentrate

3 whole eggs

Juice of 3 lemons

2{ cups sugar

1 cup white Karo corn syrup

Dissolve sugar in Hawaiian Punch. Combine all ingredients in freezer container and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Makes 6 quarts.

Source: Elizabeth Spence Madden; recipe created by her father, C. C. Spence, in 1948.

Low-Fat Chocolate Sorbet

2{ cups water

} cup packed dark brown sugar

{ cup sugar

cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1{ teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee

Combine water, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cocoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, whisking occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low; boil gently for 3 minutes.

Remove syrup from heat and add chocolate, vanilla and espresso powder; whisk until chocolate is melted and well-incorporated. Pour mixture into bowl and refrigerate to chill, stirring occasionally. Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Serves 4. Each half-cup serving has 165 calories and 3 grams of fat.

Source: "Martha Stewart Living" magazine, June 1995.