We Americans love our ice cream, consuming more than 900 million gallons a year. Before the advent of modern refrigeration, ice cream was a luxury reserved for special occasions. Homemade ice cream was laborious to prepare, and with no freezer capacity, needed to be consumed immediately. The process relied entirely upon ice harvesting, a Maine industry started on the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers in the 1860s.
Ice, cut from frozen ponds and rivers, was packed in sawdust or straw, and stored in barns and sheds known as “ice houses.” Shipped all over the world, these blocks of ice were then sold to households who used them in “ice boxes” to keep foods cold.
To prepare homemade ice cream required a tub of salted ice water with a large bowl set inside. Known as the pot-freezer method, the constant stirring of the mixture in the bowl while in contact with the icy water gradually froze the contents. The French perfected the process by adding a hand crank and churn.
Home ice cream makers have evolved over time, although the principals are still the same. Hand-crank models, like those my family used on the farm, still exist. The first upgrade was an electric motor to turn the crank. A later version replaced the ice water tub with a pre-frozen bowl stored in the freezer. More sophisticated (and expensive) models are electric units that both churn and freeze the ice cream at the same time.
Regardless of how you freeze your ice cream, the process for making the mix is the same. The recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream, adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Book, starts with a sweet cream base. As they explain in their book, the butterfat content of the dairy contents makes the ice cream rich and creamy. Eggs add more richness, and sugar, honey or maple syrup sweetens it.
Once the sweet cream base is prepared, the fun really begins with the addition of flavorings, fruits, even cookies and candies. In this recipe, I chose to make this ice cream dairy free and used coconut milk instead of traditional cream and milk. As a safety step that also improves the flavor, I pasteurized the eggs by cooking the mixture slightly to make thin custard. Just remember, if you don’t have a fancy electric freezing unit in your ice cream maker, you’ll need to chill the base before freezing.
This recipe works really well with frozen strawberries, slightly defrosted. It’s also a creative way to enjoy fruit that is just a bit overripe, think raspberries or peaches. Grated lemon zest, chopped candied ginger, banana, wild blueberry… this summer, my kitchen just might become a mini ice cream factory.