To learn about other ways to experiment with ice cream, click here.
Summer fades, but ice cream is forever. The promise of a few sweet scoops still sustains me on long harvest days, as I fill half-bushel baskets and ponder flavors.
In my first few months on the farm, I would try to make it back and forth over our hour-long lunch break to the next town north, Flint Hill, Virginia, and 24 Crows. The scrumptious shop serves several homemade varieties in warm, flaky cones made to order. But 24 Crows was sometimes closed--the nerve!--and I had started to imagine experimenting with our own bounty. So I ordered an ice-cream maker.
I browsed reviews (like Slate's) and considered going manual. At potluck dinners, our neighbors sometimes lug out their gorgeous old wooden hand-crank model, and everybody takes a turn. But the longish process requires a lot of energy--and rock salt. I opted instead for the Cuisinart Ice-25, recommended by a foodie friend whose cooking instructor said that anything more than $50 wasn't worth it. The little Cuisinart's electric plug may disrupt a classic farmhouse aesthetic, but it does come in vintage red.
It also churns ice cream delightfully fast. Flavors can go from whims to frosty spoonfuls in a half hour. Peach had been my first sweet thought, but the bears beat me to the orchard. They stayed out of the brambles, though, and the ice-cream maker arrived at the height of blackberry season, leaving little doubt about my first batch. I picked a pint of berries too ripe and juicy to sell and crushed them with sugar and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.
My fellow farm interns made quick work of that quart and a half. Next I tried sweet corn, stripping cobs and blending the kernels with a few sprigs of lavender. I savored that batch, if nobody else did, but if I made it again, I'd purée the corn smooth--some still whole kernels got icy--and experiment with more thoroughly infusing the lavender, whose flowers functioned like a topping.
Photo by Sara Lipka
The consensus favorite came next, as a special treat for my visiting parents: cantaloupe. My mother raved. But she and my dad make their own frozen desserts with Lactaid milk and fat-free half and half. Any credit should go not to me, but to the heavy cream--certified organic, of course. Trickling Springs Creamery and its grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone-free cows produce most of the milk and cream I've used so far--our neighbor Roy stocks the Pennsylvania dairy's products in the little general store he runs out of a shed beside his house.
Lately, however, I'm favoring raw milk and cream, unpasteurized and therefore, under law, not widely commercially available. Through a local farm share program, I've been able to use what activists call real milk, complete with all the beneficial bacteria, enzymes, proteins, and vitamins. Ice cream that's good for you! I keep going back for one more mouthful of my latest flavor, cucumber mint, thinking of my body's expedited calcium absorption.
Improvising ingredients is fun, but ice cream is fickle. Too much liquid and it won't freeze, which is why my second blackberry batch ended up as sauce for a vanilla buttercream cake (still, not bad). I've also tried, when Roy's gate was closed, to alter proportions of milk and cream, to unfortunate effect. I'll stick to my basic recipe and play only with flavoring for the fall menu.
Some nights are chilly here now, and I've already sipped an Argentinian submarino--steamed milk stirred with a chunk of chocolate. But the coming season's harvest holds more new flavors: butternut squash, pumpkin, apple pie. Still, there's one last taste of sweet summer hidden up in the hills. The pawpaws are ripe! The fleshy Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern fruits, sometimes called prairie bananas, taste like their tropical relatives cherimoyas and ylang-ylangs. This week we found a cluster growing wild in the woods. So to my anti-cucumber tasters who said that cream and sugar can make any ingredient tolerable, look out. They may render the exquisite pawpaw divine.
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