The Art of Popsicle-Making


Photo by Nathalie Jordi

There is, in fact, no art to popsicle-making; even skill is fairly peripheral to the task. Here's my secret: take any ripe fruit in season, whizz it up, add an element of sweetness, another of mystery (Tarragon? Cardamom? Try not to gild the lily), pour into molds, and freeze. Don't forget the popsicle stick, eh?

I got into popsicles because I love 'em, even the crappy ones. If the combination of red dye #2, stabilizers, gums, and high-fructose corn syrup can succeed at being so refreshing, so evocative of summer, childhood, innocence--I figured a popsicle made with real fruit from the farmer's market had to blow it out of the water. So I did what everyone tells you not to do: went into business with friends, invested my own money (as did they), and started trying to move popsicles in New York City.

They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Well, I say define "make it." We made a cherry-cocoa syrup that looked like mud and tasted like oily chocolate milk. We made a blueberry, yogurt, and honey popsicle with a lovely flavor but a texture akin to a velvet pincushion. We bisected plums for hours to excavate the pits before realizing that if roasted whole, the pits slide right out.

This week, I went out on a limb and made blackberry-sweet corn popsicles. I'm a little nervous about it.

Then there's the indirectly related but nevertheless relevant side of popsicle-making. Multiple manifestations of packaging that constantly let us down from a cost, practicality, quality, and ecological perspective. The number of times we've failed to keep the popsicles properly frozen as we transport them in our ancient, battered Ford Econoline, for which a year's worth of insurance costs twice as much as we paid for the van. Far-too-frequent parking tickets, a mandatory tax levied on those attempting to do business in New York City. To put not too fine a point on it, all summer we've enjoyed the vagaries that accompany gross inexperience. They've been underpinned, thankfully, by good spirits...or perhaps an optimism that could only spring from utter naïveté.

Sometimes the popsicle gods smile upon us. Last Sunday, when we were rained out of the market (did I mention it's been the wettest summer in years?), my partner David went down to Pearl's for a box of popsicle sticks. We needed them for pop production the next day, and we tend toward being extraordinarily last-minute about getting things we absolutely need by the time we absolutely need them.

Dejected, he was sitting cross-legged, drenched from the downpour, on the floor of the popsicle aisle (this is how he tells the story, but he IS prone to exaggeration) when the clerk who'd delivered the bad news came up to him wide-eyed, as if the checkout desk had just borne witness to the Annunciation. "There's a lady here who wants to return a box of popsicle sticks," he said. "But she doesn't have a receipt, so I can't take them. She's up at the front if you want to talk to her." What's that if not divine intervention?

This week, I went out on a limb and made blackberry-sweet corn popsicles. The blackberries are seconds from Phillips Farm, where the lady who sells them is always curious to see what new disguise we've given her produce, and sometimes stops by our stand on Sundays to see. A half-pint of display-quality blackberries costs $3, but she lets the seconds go for $1 a box, and I snap 'em up. Who cares whether they're slightly smooshed if I'm going to muddle them with mint two hours after I buy them?

Today, I filled the popsicle molds about one-third full with these and froze them for an hour. As the contents of a crate of halved cling peaches roasted, we scraped the kernels off corncobs so super-sweet they tasted like candy and poured the pile of nuggets onto a sheet pan we put into the oven.

We raked them back and forth for a couple of minutes until they shriveled and their vegetal sugars began to caramelize. Once cooled, the corn got whizzed up with a bit of Ronnybrook cream and the fleshy cooked peaches. These went through a further refining in the mouli food mill, and we poured this mixture on top of the partially frozen blackberry layer, making, in effect, a two-tone popsicle. With corn kernels.

David almost fainted when he heard I'd made a cornsicle. I'm not going to lie--I'm a little nervous about it. Not that it won't taste good, but that people will philosophically object to eating a popsicle made from vegetable.

Wasn't I the one advising against gilding the lily? Good lord. I might have taken it one step too far this time.

To try People's Pops for yourself, go to the Brooklyn Flea in Ft. Greene on Saturdays and DUMBO on Sundays; check their Web site for other locations.