There’s a 1922 Wallace Stevens poem called “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” In it an old woman has died, and there is to be a wake. Death itself gives occasion for the survivors to party, with the help of “concupiscent curds” of freshly made ice cream. Both stanzas end with the same line: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.” Whatever else it means, the poem suggests that life goes on, that ice cream really helps the process, and that families and homemade ice cream are natural allies.
It’s National Ice Cream Month in the United States. In Utah, where MyHeritage (USA) is headquartered, we’ve had a bout of hot days, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). We’re also caught up in family reunions and summer holiday gatherings. Many of these celebrations involve ice cream, and it’s often homemade. I’ve been asking around; I’m not the only one for whom homemade ice cream conjures happy family memories.
At home we’ve been using a hand-cranked ice cream machine. It’s on long-term loan from my father, who hasn’t used it himself since my mother died several years ago. I remember her making strawberry ice cream with it, using home-grown strawberries. We’ve tried a few other flavors at my house, but we keep coming back to a simple recipe for lemon ice cream. We first experienced it at my brother-in-law’s home in California a few years ago, at a memorable family reunion. He got the recipe from a distinguished family friend in Massachusetts, so it has a worthy pedigree. We threatened to hold a niece or nephew hostage, or something like that, until my brother-in-law shared the recipe.
The formula is still closely guarded, rather like the secret recipes of major cola drinks and fried chicken franchises. My mentioning it in connection with this article caused my teenage daughter to threaten my life, if I published the recipe. So if you want to try it, I guess you’ll have to get yourself invited to one of my family’s celebrations. My unscientific homemade ice cream poll of Facebook friends yielded the following results:
- Vanilla is very popular, in part because of all the fun things you can put in it or on top of it.
- Fresh peach, fresh raspberry, and fresh strawberry ice creams get high marks.
- Hand-cranked wins by a nose over electric, but electric is better for — swoon! — “keeping the freezer full,” which is a cherished and enviable tradition in the family of a young lady to whom I used to pass notes in my tenth-grade English class.
- I hesitate to report that, apparently, the right combination of bananas and strawberries, blended and put in the freezer for a couple of hours, has the texture of ice cream “without the calories or the lactose.”
Ice cream purists, please don’t judge the source of that last item harshly. She’s a very good person.
Look up the history of ice cream at Wikipedia, and you’ll see that they trace it to a grape snow cone that was popular in the ancient Persian Empire. Many centuries later, it may have been the Arabs who pioneered the use of milk and made ice cream a commercial product in the 10th Century. In my hemisphere, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are known to have served and eaten ice cream regularly.
My other favorite summer flavors are travel and a good book, not necessarily in that order. So here’s a concluding scoop of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, a rather jaded account of visiting Odessa:
We were only to stay here a day and a night and take in coal; we consulted the guide-books and were rejoiced to know that there were no sights in Odessa to see; and so we had one good, untrammeled holyday on our hands, with nothing to do but idle about the city and enjoy ourselves. We sauntered through the markets and criticised the fearful and wonderful costumes from the back country; examined the populace as far as eyes could do it; and closed the entertainment with an ice-cream debauch. We do not get ice-cream every where, and so, when we do, we are apt to dissipate to excess. We never cared any thing about ice-cream at home, but we look upon it with a sort of idolatry now that it is so scarce in these red-hot climates of the East. (Chapter 36)
An “ice cream debauch” would definitely win points with my family. I may have to pick up some cream and a bag of ice on my way home tonight.