YOUR HISTORY BOOKS PROBABLY TOLD you that Nero fiddled while Rome burned; well, they were right. History books don’t lie, they just leave out the important facts. What they don’t tell you about the decadent Emperor was that he dropped his fiddle long enough to invent ice cream. His method was simple—special runners, probably called slaves, trucked in snow and ice from the Alps to the Emperor who covered it with wine or crushed fruit. Instant ice cream.
Although Nero declined and fell, ice cream did not. It flourished in Italy until 1600 when it was introduced to France by Marie de Medici when she traveled to marry King Henry IV. After all, she was expressly told to bring her ice cream makers or stay home. Despite the marriage, French ice cream remains inferior to Italian ice cream, which still is the best in the world.
If you’re not planning a trip to Italy or to the Northeast to visit the Deering Ice Cream Shops (probably the best in the United States), if you think that United Fruit (Baskin-Robbins) may be adding too many emulsifiers and stabilizers to their product, if you sit in Swensen’s lone outpost in Dallas wondering if you are in ice cream heaven, consider Mrs. Stickney’s (Deering’s) warning. “I’d hate to see the day when young people can’t tell the difference because they’ve never tasted good home-made ice cream.”
If you are one of the people Mrs. Stickney talks about, it’s high time to try making your own at home this summer. Then you’ll be prepared for the dark night of the soybean, the night when synthetic substitutes sneak undetected past your tastebuds, the night when Cool Whip follows the false trail set up by the substitutes, the night when you realize you can’t tell the difference between good and bad ice cream.
While frantically reaching for your nearest ice cream crank you can turn the occasion into the 125th or 127th anniversary of the great leap forward in ice cream technology—the invention of the ice cream churn by none other than an American woman, Nancy Johnson. Or you can celebrate the stealing and patenting of her idea two years later by William Young. At least he called it the Johnson Patent-Ice Cream Freezer. Small consolation; but you may make the decision about which anniversary to celebrate.
Ms. Johnson’s invention created the incomparable texture of ice cream we know today. Stendhal, after tasting his first hand-churned ice cream, was moved first to ecstasy and then to philosophy: “What a pity this isn’t a sin,” he said.
Unlike our pioneer ancestors, we don’t have to run out to the ice house and hope there is enough ice for the hand churn. Nor do we have to rely on a rare trip to New Orleans, like our more fortunate ancestors, to taste ice cream this summer. Anyway, all those affluent pioneers got to taste was Yankee ice, for New Orleans proprieters used Nero’s technique of running north for ice to store in their ice houses.
Today, however, you can reach into your own fridge for Texas ice, Texas cream, and pure flavorings. Nothing can compare to that. Moreover, although the very finest commercial equipment still provides for finishing off the ice cream by hand, electric-powered ice cream freezers make the arm-busting task of cranking obsolete. But if you can’t afford the price of a hand- or machine-powered freezer, rest easy, for you can still make ice cream in the trays of your refrigerator. Although the end product won’t be quite as rich or as smooth as that churned by a mixer, it will be all your own.
A custard made of cream, milk and eggs, cooked slightly and mixed with the desired flavorings, makes up the basic base for ice cream. Flavorings should be fresh. Remember that no vanilla tastes as good as crushed vanilla bean and that sweetener (whether sugar or honey) and flavoring should be stronger than usual, as freezing will mask the flavoring.
To begin, you need to know how to make a good vanilla, the base for most ice creams.
You also need to select a freezer, either hand or machine. They range in price from $10-$30. (If you can’t find one near home write to the following: The J .E. Porter Co., Ottawa, Illinois, 61350 or The Richmond Cedar Works Manufacturing Corp., 400 Bridge Street, Danville, Virginia, 24541.) The freezer churns and adds air to the custard mixture while it freezes. If you’ve ever left a milk bottle out on a freezing night and looked at it the next morning you’ll know that freezing will expand the basic ice cream mixture. The entire mixture expands by about a third because tiny air bubbles and small ice crystals are introduced into the mixture. The texture of the ice cream comes from the size of these bubbles and chunks of ice, so unless you have a yen for vanilla flavored hail, try to keep both the bubbles and the ice as small as possible.
The freezer itself is made up of a cranking mechanism, a metal can for the custard base, a dasher, which is only a fancy name for a paddle which performs the agitation, and last, a tub to surround the can and protect its contents from the ice and salt that freezes the ice cream.
The Freezing Process
1. Wash the can, cover and dasher, place in scalding water and cool. This is a good precaution since dairy products make the ideal home for the culture of bacteria.
2. Pour the chilled custard base into the can until approximately two-thirds full. You need to allow for expansion in the freezing process. Too much will overflow, too little will not freeze and whip properly.
3. Put the can in the tub, put the dasher in the can, cover the can and put the crank in place.
4. Now you can fill the tub with salt (rock salt is best) and crushed ice. The usual proportions are one pound of salt to six pounds of ice.
5. Start cranking. For