Sundays were ice cream days. Through the week, mom had frozen blocks of ice in freezer boxes, and after Sunday dinner we'd haul these out to the yard as she stirred together the milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Dad would bring the blue ice cream freezer from the garage to its place beneath the catalpa tree in the yard, and break up the ice blocks with a hammer. The ice cream mix was poured into the canister, ice and lots of salt all around, and the handle assembly fixed into place. Then mom would put a folded-up rug on top of the freezer; one of us kids would sit on top while another took their turn cranking. We cranked and changed positions, cranked and changed positions and cranked. And cranked some more. Mom would check every now and then, adding more ice and salt, and we whined and complained and continued to crank until our arms were sore and the dasher just wouldn't budge any more; we just knew that the ice cream was done. Someone would yell for dad to come check; he would kneel down, put one big hand on top of the freezer, the other on the handle, and crank like his arm was a motor, as if the ice cream was still just soupy milk. Every time. And every time, we were amazed that he was able to turn the handle at all.
When he finally judged that it was done, he disassembled the freezer and pulled the canister out, being careful not to let any salty water get to the ice cream. The dasher went into a big mixing bowl, and the canister into the kitchen, where bowls and spoons were waiting. And I will tell you, it was the best ice cream ever. Ever. Oh, without any stabilizers or emulsifiers or whatever, it melted quickly, and didn't re-freeze very well, but then again, there was rarely any left. Over the years, there was some experimentation with additions of fruit and different recipes (cooked vs. non-cooked) but plain old vanilla was the family standard.
I don't know what happened to that old blue freezer, and I don't remember making ice cream after mom got sick; I guess there were just too many other things to worry about. But my dad was still the strongest man in the world through mom's battle with cancer -- always positive, always pushing for a new treatment or drug, always trying to get mom to eat and always trying to make her happy. It wasn't until the day she died that we watched his strength disappear -- her death was his Sampson moment.
I miss my strong dad every day. Not for just for cranking the ice cream freezer or lifting heavy objects, but for lifting me out of a dilemma, sadness or regular old funk. And not with soft words, pats and smiles, but more with a figurative kick in the pants and a toss back into the pig pen. Luckily, dad's lessons have stuck with me. Doubly lucky, I married a strong man much like him; early in our relationship, we almost broke up when Clay told me to "get your head out of your ass" and move on. I have no recollection of what I was whining about, but after I got over being ticked, I realized it was pretty good advice, and the same advice I would have gotten from dad.
Here's to strong dads. And ice cream.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream4 eggs, lightly beaten (or 1 cup of Eggbeaters or liquid pasturized eggs if you're disturbed by raw eggs)
2 1/2 c. sugar
6 c. milk
4 c. half and half
2 T. vanilla (I like Marion Kay the best; here I go on the Indiana kick again)
1/2 t. salt
Stir eggs, sugar and about half the milk together until all the sugar is dissolved; all the rest of the ingredients. Pour into ice cream freezer, and freeze according to the directions. We have a Rival electric freezer I think we received as a wedding gift (so it is OLD); Clay had to cinch it together with a strap and the motor was a little bogged down, but it works! Have lots of ice ready (we went through one of those huge bags) and lots of salt -- several cups worth. Water softener salt works great; the more salt, the colder the ice mix, and the faster it will freeze.
You know, I am a pretty simple girl and don't want for much (besides a Mini Cooper, a vintage travel trailer and a new sewing machine). But I would like one of these:
just so the kids can sit on a folded rug while we all take turns cranking.