I had my first taste of something approaching real ice cream when I was seven or eight years old. We had moved into the country about four miles north of Hayward, but the milkman from West’s Dairy still delivered our milk twice a week just as he had in town. It was whole milk that had not been homogenized, just like God gave it to us from the friendly cows of Wisconsin.
One very cold morning, when I went to the front porch to bring in the milk bottles, I found them with the paper caps pushed out of the bottles and globs of frozen cream rising out of the tops. Mom explained that when the milk began freezing ice crystals formed that took up more space in the bottle than the milk. The cream in the milk had risen to the top, and the freezing milk pushed the cream out the top of the bottle.
With a teaspoon she gave my sisters and me a taste and had a little herself. It tasted wonderful, and I still judge every scoop of ice cream by that sample I enjoyed so long ago. That’s when I learned that real ice cream is basically frozen cream. Just consider what the name means.
I am not saying that I don’t enjoy many different brands and styles of ice cream available in shops and stores, but only a few are real ice cream. Unfortunately, many are made with chemicals that reduce the need for cream, slow the ice cream from melting or extend its shelf life.
If you want to test whether a commercial ice cream is real, let a little of it melt in a bowl. If the melted liquid looks like half and half or whipping cream, all is well. If it resembles something in the bottom of a paint can, there are a lot of strange chemicals in that puddle.
Making ice cream is easy if you have an ice cream freezer. We never had one when I was growing up, so Mom experimented with no-crank recipes using condensed milk as well as cream. I remember watching her carefully stirring half-frozen ice cream in those old aluminum ice cube trays with the removable dividers. It was a treat, but it didn’t compare with the ice cream from West’s Dairy in Hayward.
When West’s stopped delivering milk to customers in the country, we had to pick it up at the store in Hayward. One time, when I was eight or nine, Dad sent me in to buy the milk while he waited in the car. As I recall, a half gallon cost something like forty-seven cents. I am sure about the seven, because he gave me two pennies plus a couple of quarters.
When I got in the car, I was on top of the world, because the clerk had given me the pennies back along with the nickel change. This prompted my father to give me a lecture about honesty. “You know that is not your money, so take those pennies back in and explain that she made a mistake.” So I did, and I never forgot that lesson.
Incidentally, West’s Dairy is still making good ice cream in the same building on Second and Dakota in Hayward where we bought our milk. Jeff Miller bought the dairy with his partner in 2005 from Bruce West, who took over the business when his father retired. Jeff just published Scoop, a memoir about their first year in Hayward. It’s a fun read about living in a small town with some memorable passages involving people who resemble characters I knew sixty years ago.
But back to making real ice cream. After we received a hand-crank freezer from our best man and his wife at our wedding, we became serious ice cream makers. For the first few years of our marriage we lived in Virginia and Kentucky, two states where you needed to make your own ice cream if you wanted the real stuff.
Today we have an electric ice cream freezer, and we make ice cream only once or twice each summer. There are dozens of recipes for ice cream. Ours is simple.
2 cups whipping cream
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Dash of salt
At least three hours before you plan to make the ice cream, whisk together the cream, half and half, vanilla extract and salt. Put the mixture into the refrigerator to get it good and cold.
Put the freezer canister and beater into the freezer of your refrigerator a half hour before you plan to start making the ice cream.
Follow the directions you got with the freezer to pack the freezer with ice and salt to turn the cream into ice cream.
Eat and enjoy.
NOTES: Real ice cream is good plain, but fresh raspberries, strawberries or peaches don’t hurt. Topping a couple of scoops with homemade hot fudge sauce is another good way to go.
Some recipes call for more vanilla. Ignore them. You want to taste the cream.