Ice Cream on Labor Day


In anticipation of Labor Day, I’m thinking of what is a favorite activity for the Whitley family – making ice cream in our vintage White Mountain person – powered churn.

It seems that this particular holiday – Labor Day – has come to denote the last of summer. Those boiling hot days here in the South will now give way to the particular quality of September light, before the hullabaloo of October, the quietness of Thanksgiving, and the frenzy of Christmas.

Just for me, however, I’ll enjoy a quiet morning on my light-dappled front porch and determine which ice cream it will be for enjoying later in the day. Adam liked one rippled with swirls of chocolate while Heather prefers one with a fruit. Les likes a richly perfumed vanilla, and I like almost any flavor other than chocolate.

In other days, the Crady family would thrill to hear Najgy (my mother) utter the words that indicated custard was bubbling on the stove preparatory to making a base for her ice cream. Many eggs, sugar, thick cream drawn from the top of the jug, and a flour thickener were used for this base. (No wonder the Crady clan was not known for their svelte figures!) After the custard had cooled sufficiently, more whole milk was added to ensure the proper ratio for freezing. Then it all would be poured into a steel plated cylinder, the paddle assembly inserted and set properly into its niche, then covered, and this combined unit placed inside a tapered wooden bucket.

Generally after this, Najgy’s work was done and the “men” took over. Ice was placed in the bucket around the cylinder and layered with coarse ground salt (to ensure freezing). Many hours, or so it seemed, were needed for the proper turning of the cylinder in its salty bath. A crank assembly placed on the top of the cylinder allowed for this to happen; hence, the phrase “hand-churned the old-fashioned way.” As the temperature of the sweet mixture inside the cylinder began to go down, the hand crank became harder and harder to turn. At this point, the youngest member of the anticipatory horde generally was allowed to sit on the top of the towel-covered churn. This step was surely necessary not only to keep the churn steady, but also to cool hot legs waiting on a hot day.

Not many times, because everyone was too eager to cool themselves with the frozen treat, was the churn allowed to “sit” in order for the mixture to become properly frozen. Yet, this was a treat worth waiting for, since it was not often that we made ice cream.

After the handle assembly was removed and the salty cover was wiped clean, the moment came: the cylinder was pulled free of its icy shroud, the cover removed, and the dasher was pulled free (along with some of the best of the frozen mixture) so that those who were near could verify the success of the completed task.

In the cool of a late afternoon (usually a Sunday) while the fireflies emerged and before the mosquitos emerged for their mealtimes, both the Crady and Whitley households paused for a quiet cessation of cares and work-a-day sameness to come together, hearing the clink of spoon against bowl, the cooing of doves, the soft murmur of loving voices, and the joyous laughter of children.

Though I crave homemade ice cream on occasion, I crave even more the warmth that comes along with that cold spoonful of nostalgia.

Adam’s Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
1 16 oz. can chocolate syrup
1 c. sugar
1 pt. whipping cream
1 qt. half and half
1 qt. whole milk
1 t. vanilla
1/8 t. salt
1 chocolate almond bar, grated
Mix and freeze in your favorite freezer