Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 60
More poignantly than
pick-up baseball games
or mid-arc exits from a
swingset, the memories
of childhood ice creammaking live in our hearts
BY FRED & JILL SAUCEMAN
Remembering the Rituals of
Homemade Ice Cream
It was the longest stretch of time, that wait for
homemade ice cream. The cranking was tedious and tiring, and our childhood patience
was pushed to the limit. When the frosty metal
cylinder in the ice cream maker would not turn
any more and the kitchen towel was laid on top of
the barrel so the ice cream could ripen, the wait was
unending, almost unendurable.
In the hour or so it required for a freezer of homemade ice cream to solidify or cure, children like us
would abandon their posts at first base or third, run to
the adult who had done most of the cranking, and ask,
"Is it ready yet?" We interjected the question with the
same persistence and frustration that emanated repeatedly from the back seats of station wagons on vacation:
"How much farther is it?"
The old hand-cranked ice cream freezer was a shrine
back then, the unifying element of summer afternoon
backyard picnics. Being chosen to take your turn at the
crank meant you had made it, that the strength of your
arm now commanded the respect of the elders. Some
parents required a minimum number of cranks before
you handed the responsibility off to someone else and
headed back to the makeshift baseball diamond behind
the house. Some children shortened their rite of passage,
surreptitiously counting their turns by fives and tens.
The tumbling of store-bought chunks of ice and the
grinding and swishing of rock salt were among summer's
most memorable sounds, in those days before the electric
freezers took over. We had never heard of carpal tunnel
syndrome, and we would never admit to tennis elbow.
Our freezers were spring green and barrel-like,
with vertical staves held tight by rusting
metal bands. They made the rounds of
family reunions, church socials, Fourth
of July picnics, ice cream suppers, and
Sunday afternoon cookouts on the banks of chilly Horse
Creek in Northeast Tennessee and at the foot of Clinch
Mountain in Southwest Virginia.
There was never a question about choice of flavor.
Homemade ice cream meant vanilla. Period. No debate.
Adding strawberries or peaches, much as we treasured
them sugared in bowls by themselves, was out of the
question. Even cake was an unnecessary and frivolous ornamentation. And to offer toppings of chocolate syrup,
maraschino cherries or nuts was sacrilege, as unthinkable
as serving commercial ice cream at a birthday party.
Once that towel was whisked off the freezer with a
flourish, once the paddle inside the cylinder had been
scraped clean of ice cream, pandemonium ensued.
Gloves were tossed off and left in the outfield. Children
catapulted themselves out of swing sets in mid-arc.
There were no dietary cautions about eating ice cream
made with real eggs then. Soft and arctic cold, tonguetingling homemade ice cream was eaten with abandon.
Children stopped only to recover from annoying but
temporary brain-freeze headaches.
Nowadays, when ice cream can be produced with a
few facile turns of a plastic-handled machine in an airconditioned kitchen, turned out effortlessly by an electric freezer sitting abandoned on the patio, or purchased
in shopping mall ice cream boutiques, we miss the lessons those old hand-cranked machines taught so many
generations during sweltering Southern summers. That
those things coming to us the quickest and easiest are
not always the best. Those wooden, arm-powered ice
cream freezers taught us patience, the virtue of waiting
for what is good. They helped us realize that honest labor, shared with others, will eventually be rewarded.
Fred and Jill Sauceman study and celebrate the foodways
of Appalachia and the South from their home in Johnson City,