Well, summer and peach season are way over. In fact, I’ve missed the fall equinox by a couple of weeks. But when we’re talking about something like homemade peach ice cream (handcranked!) I think we can all agree on a “better late than never” philosophy.
Travis’ grandmother’s birthday is in the middle of August and for a long time growing up, they handcranked peach ice cream to serve with cake. This tradition had not happened in the time that I’ve been part of the family and I decided this was not okay. This was clearly a tradition that needed to be resurrected.
It’s not just because I’m a big fan of food traditions that I was so keen on this project. I do think food traditions critical at helping us mark the signposts of the year and giving us things to look forward to, like fresh peaches. But it was also because I’ve, um, never made ice cream before. This is a huge gap in my food experience. I mean, come on, I studied abroad in Rome and gained 8 pounds in 3 months simply from gelato. I worked at an Italian restaurant that made its own ice cream and I became more than a little obsessed with trying each flavor (quality control, right?). And good real ice cream is one of my go-to, family-friendly desserts. And yet…. I cannot bear to buy an ice-cream maker! I HATE unitaskers in my kitchen. Thankfully, gourmet “micro-ice cream” is on the rise, so I’ve made do without making my own. So true to form, I decided that hand cranked ice cream would be the ideal first attempt.
Once upon a time, everyone hand-cranked their ice cream. Cranking wasn’t even the hard part; once upon a time, ice itself was a luxury! And you really appreciate that when you are cranking the ice cream mixture over and over and over, and the ice is melting and there might not be enough left in the freezer and you’re popping ice out of ice cube trays into a container to stay in the freezer and frantically making more ice cubes in the single tray just in case. Imagine needing more and having to run to the ice-house and saw a corner out from some sawdust. Whew.
Ice aside, however, the simplicity of the thing makes it great. It’s just peaches, cream, and sugar. Once past the hurdle of setting the hand-crank up properly, it was hard to go wrong even for an ice-cream-making-newbie like me. The time-honored traditional recipe is from a cookbook written in 1938 by one of Travis’ great-great aunts. Use 8 parts ice and 1 part rock-salt for the machine. One quart of peaches cut up and food milled, 1 pint of cream, 2 T maple sugar, 1/8 tsp almond extract, and then add as much sugar as need to get the mixture just too sweet (we just kept adding maple sugar, and we doubled the recipe). I love love love that measurement, because everyone’s “too sweet” is different and it’s an easy metric that guarantees the person making the ice cream will at least love the final product. My friend Melissa and I actually had a lot of fun adding small quantities of sugar and deciding when it had become just too sweet. It was a great exercise in paying attention and using your preferences as a guide. Okay, so here goes….
The texture never got as firm as we are used to but that was in part because we were too impatient to freeze the ice cream for a few hours once it was well churned. Also, maybe once upon a time when everything was hand cranked, ice cream was simply softer? Regardless, it froze up enough in time for the birthday cake! It was solid enough to scoop and oh, it was good. Just like summer in my mouth.
So here’s my recommendation. Resurrect someone’s hand-crank machine and make up some ice-cream. Peach is mighty fine, but fortunately there are myriad options and recipes to be found even though peaches are long out of season. Hand crank that stuff so that you really understand and appreciate the luxury of what you’re eating. And then, when that batch is gone and you know that a new obsession has been born, go out and treat yourself to an ice cream machine. And then invite me over for the inaugural batch:)