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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. Ice Cream - Ice Cream

Ice Cream - Ice Cream. Chuck says that even in the terrible days of The Depression making home made ice cream was a party to lift one's spirit.
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By Chuck Hinman

Ice Cream -- Ice Cream

I don't know about you, but if it hadn't been for the universal popularity of homemade ice cream, growing up in the 'dirty thirties' would have been pretty dreary.

Everything was going wrong: drought, insects, wind

Everything possible was going wrong, especially for great plains farm families. We lived in Gage County, Nebraska. For example, after the Great Depression there was year after year of droughts, not a cloud in the sky with daytime temperatures reaching as high as 115 degrees. If that wasn't enough to melt spirits, there was a succession of insect plagues, insects like grasshoppers and locusts, voraciously gobbling up anything green that tried to grow in unbelievable arid conditions. The winds became incessantly cruel and blew precious top-soil so that days turned into nights because the sun was blotted out with dust blowing high in the sky. The flying dust combined with jillions of insects filling the air as they migrated to an area not already ravaged. It was a time of HELL ON EARTH!

Even though I was just a youngster those times left an indelible mark that only something like home made ice cream could erase.

People dealt only lemons made lemonade

Some how, some way it seemed that an indomitable spirit prevailed and when people of those days were dealt nothing but lemons day after day, they chose to make the best lemonade imaginable! We couldn't afford lemons so when things got 'badder' we made ice cream and had a PARTY!

People still laughed -- babies still cried -- dogs still barked -- and the stars still came out at night.

Making ice cream was a party

Picture the incongruity of this scene: when Mom announced we were going to make ice cream, we three kids started jumping up and down and screaming "ICE CREAM, ICE CREAM, WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM!"

Our faces looked like we were all ready for a masquerade party -- what with dirt mixed with dried sweat eerily marking our little faces in different ways. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could mask the welcome truth that a party was about to bust out.

Eggs were plentiful

Mom, in her feed sack apron was in the kitchen preparing the ice cream custard. She always hummed when she was happy. "Let's see now" with her trademark hands on her hips when she was in deep thought, "I need some eggs."

"Jody, would you bring Mama eight eggs out of the egg-crate?" No need to slack here, we didn't have much money but we had eggs. She pulled the big cloth bag of sugar out of the pantry and added two or three scoops of sugar, followed by a quart of rich cream and a big splash of Watkins vanilla.

No measuring but 'mama instinct' mixing

Mom didn't need measuring cups or spoons. She was an expert and knew by 'mama instinct' aided by an index-finger that quick as a wink brought a dab of whatever she was mixing to her mouth. She lapped the sample of custard off her index finger with a trained tongue that only mammas have. Then she glanced quickly at the ceiling as she wiped her finger on her apron and somehow got the answer from somewhere what she needed to add.

I don't know how she did it but it worked, believe me! It was kitchen magic at work by an expert. Just stay out of her way.

Mom, 'home executive,' has kids running errands

All the while Mom was putting the ice cream together she had kids running here and there getting stuff for her. She was a 'home executive' strutting her stuff.

Even Sport, our dog got caught up in the party spirit. He followed each of us kids, barking incessantly as we ran errands for Mom. He was the original party dog at heart.

Mom dispatched one of us to bring her the old well-used ice cream freezer out of the basement. It had been stored there since the last party. Another had to go out to the well platform and bring the dasher. She had some water boiling on the wood burning stove to rinse off the dust and destroy the ever-lurking salmonella germs.

Crushing block ice to fit the freezer bucket

Meanwhile Dad was doing the heavy work like chipping a block of ice off the large chunk of ice in the ice box. We always had a pile of empty gunny-sacks out in the granary. If the gunny-sack from the last 'ice-cream makin' wasn't hanging in sight out on the fence, one of us kids went on a full run to get another one from the granary screaming "ICE CREAM, ICE CREAM WE ALL.......", the chickens scattering ahead of us probably wondering "what's going on!"

After the block of ice was put in the sack, Dad used the side of an axe to crush the ice in small enough shards to clear the space between the metal bucket containing the ice cream custard and the weathered-looking wooden bucket which had been filled with water for a few hours prior to the freezing process beginning. This was to make sure the wooden staves forming the bucket would swell with the water to form a water tight container for the freezing process about to begin.

By this time Mom had cooled the custard a little and poured it in the galvanized six quart ice cream bucket. She finished topping the custard off with additional whole milk and/or cream. Again she put her index finger and tongue to work to see if it needs a little more this or that. When it was just right she put the dasher in and the lid on and announced that it was time to freeze the ice cream.

Cranking the freezer

Dad took charge at this point. After the crank was attached to the ice cream bucket and the dasher, it was time for kids to start cranking the freezer while Dad combined the ice and ice-cream salt in just the right portions to insure that the ice cream custard would freeze quickly. If this wasn't done correctly, the freezing temperature might never be reached and you could crank forever and all you would ever have would be soft ice cream. But done correctly, after about 15 or 20 minutes of cranking you could tell the ice cream was getting stiff. Dad knew his stuff from experience.

Each of us kids would take turns cranking for about a five minute shift or until we got winded and asked for relief. Occasionally Dad would have to add additional cracked ice and/or ice cream salt.

The last hundred turns of the crank

When the freezing began to happen it was necessary to put the empty gunny sack on top the freezer and somebody volunteered to sit on the top to hold the freezer steady when the ice cream was really getting stiff. They wound up with a cold fanny and wet ring on their overalls but that just added to the excitement.

Dad would always say when nearly through freezing, "Let's do 100 more!" By that time you could only do about ten turns and you were winded. All three of us kids were yelling the countdown, 'thirty-nine, forty, and forty-one.'

FINALLY when 1-0-0 rolled around we kids were about exhausted!

Helping led to licking the dasher

Now for the traditional 'good' part! Whoever was involved in freezing the ice cream got to 'lick the dasher.'

Mom would come from the kitchen to take charge of the finishing touches of 'curing' the ice cream. This involved removing the excess crushed ice from the top of the freezer, then the crank was removed and Mom very carefully removed the excess salty ice so that when she removed the lid none of the salty ice would fall on top the delicious looking ice cream. She would use a clean white dishtowel to wipe the salt briny water off and then with her index finger reach down in the ice cream bucket and get a hold on the dasher and carefully pull it out of the freezer.

We pleaded with Mom not to shake the dasher too much because when she got it removed she would stand it in a big cake pan and hand it to us kids who were equipped with table spoons and were going to get to scrape and eat the excess ice cream off the dasher. What excitement.

Ice cream headaches from eating too fast

Quite often, we would be in good-natured competition to get more than our share, but in doing so, we would get one of those awful 'ice cream headaches' from eating ice cream too fast.

Mom would put the lid back on the bucket and turned the remaining few steps back to Dad. He drained off the excess water. Then he repacked the freezer bucket with ice and salt. Last of all, Momma had a clean old bath towel or throw rug to cover the whole shebang during the time the final firming of the ice cream was taking place, somewhere around an hour.

Dogs too like ice cream parties

By this time our ice cream headache had worn off and we got in line with our bowls as Mom dished out a generous portion of delicious vanilla ice cream. We would run out on the front porch with our bowl of ice cream, screaming "ICE CREAM, ICE CREAM, WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM!" Sport would be sitting somewhere nearby with smiling eyes and his tongue eternally hanging out, hoping for a generous handout. After all dogs like ice cream parties too.

As an octogenarian, I suspect that many of our world's dreadful problems would be tolerable if we had more ice cream parties like we did in the good old days.

Written by Chuck Hinman. Emailed: Friday, 15 January 2010.

This story was posted on 2014-08-10 06:24:46
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