How to Make Old-Fashioned Ice Cream at Home

History of Homemade Ice Cream and Recipes

By Edie Clark
May 29, 2020
How to Make Ice Cream

Learn how to make homemade old-fashioned ice cream by making it yourself in a hand-crank freezer, plus learn all about the history of ice cream and find some great ice cream recipes.

Homemade Ice Cream Recipes

For inspiration, here are a few of our favorite ice cream recipes. Follow the tips below, too!

Want some more recipes? Browse our Summer Recipe archives!

Tips for Making the Best Homemade Ice Cream

  • Use the freshest ingredients available to you, especially fruit if you’re making fruity ice cream. 
  • Before you start, scald the can and the dasher. Make sure you have the rock salt (available at most hardware stores) and the crushed ice is at the ready. Make sure the can and the ice cream mixture is well chilled after you scald it.
  • Never fill the can more than three-quarters full—somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters is ideal—because if the can gets overcrowded, your ice cream will become grainy. 
  • The ideal proportion of ice to salt in your ice cream mixture should be three to one. While you’re cranking your ice cream mixture, don’t add ice as it melts away, don’t take any water out, and don’t add more salt.


How to Make Old-Fashioned Ice Cream

  1. With everything ready to go, pour the prepared ice cream mixture into the can and nestle the can into the tub fitting. Gradually layer the ice and the salt around the can in the proper proportions, turning the crank slowly to let it settle. Let the mixture sit in the iced tub for about 5 minutes, in order to let it chill.
  2. Begin churning so that the can is turning clockwise. Turn slowly for the first couple minutes, then pick up speed for the next 10 minutes or so, until the ice cream is solid. The handle will become more and more difficult to turn until suddenly it will resist, which might make you think that you broke it. Don’t worry! This just means, “It is now ice cream!” 
  3. Wipe the top of the can clean of ice and salt water and check to see if it is done. Let the ice cream “ripen;” remove the dasher and pack the ice cream down into the can with a long-handled spoon. Put the cover back on tightly and place a cork in the hole where the dasher was. Put it back in the tub, pack it in with four parts ice, one part salt, then protect the tub with a thick covering (old carpet, a blanket folded over a few times) and let it sit in a shady spot for at least two hours. 

Congratulations! Fresh, homemade ice cream knows no equal when it comes to cooling you and your family off after a hot summer’s day. Try some of our cool ice cream recipes on your own!

A History of Homemade Ice Cream

Ice cream has been a favorite dessert for a long time. When the family gathered and the temperature soared on summer Sunday afternoons, the ice cream freezer, sack of rock salt, fresh ingredients, and tub of ice were brought out for the weekly ice cream ritual, one almost as unbreakable as the visit to church earlier in the day.

Even though this summer Sunday ritual has faded along with taking a turn on the crank of the ice cream freezer, ice cream is still marked by the strong loyalty of its devotees, a loyalty with a surprisingly long historical reach.

If it’s true that I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, these cries have come up through the ages from some impressive vocal cords: Marco Polo (a devoted sherbet fan), Catherine de Medici, Richard the Lion-hearted, and our own George Washington, who was rumored to have run up some rather astounding ice cream bills during the hot summer months.

In the early days of the colonies and on into the nineteenth century, ice cream was made by agitating a container of sweetened cream in a tub of salt and ice. The ice cream freezer that is still with us today was invented in 1846 by Nancy Johnson, an otherwise obscure figure on the culinary scene. In fact, it may have been her invention that brought ice cream down from its regal, aristocratic pedestal and onto the tongues of the middle class. 


After the turn of the century, street vendors known as hokey-pokey men peddled their confections to eager young customers, the ice cream cone was invented, and shortly thereafter the indelible names of Good Humor Eskimo Pie, and Howard Johnson crested the horizon of frozen desserts.

It was sometime after this that ice cream took what some would consider its turn for the worse. Our fellow ice cream addicts, Catherine de Medici and George Washington, would scarcely recognize their beloved confection in today’s stabilized, emulsified form. The convenient freezer that most of us enjoy today rules out many of the pleasantries of this ancient delicacy. What we call ice cream, those solid bricks in our freezers, can hardly compete with its nineteenth century counterpart in flavor or refreshment.

Temperature, for one thing, is one of the most important parts of ice cream flavor, and the common temperature of most freezers is just too cold to allow all the subtle flavors to emerge. But aside from temperature, the quality and freshness of the ingredients is the critical factor in the difference between then and now. You can still enjoy “old-fashioned” ice cream, though, by making it yourself in a hand-crank freezer. Freezers much like Nancy Johnson’s original are still produced and are widely available today. Learn more about the long history of ice cream.

Have you ever made homemade ice cream? What’s your favorite flavor? Let us know in the comments!


The Forgotten Arts, Book Four, 1979

Reader Comments

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Electric or not - why not both?

The problem with electric freezers is that they don't have sufficient power, and tend to stop way before the ice cream is done enough. And of course hand cranking is takes a lot of muscle, especially once the ice cream begins to stiffen (the longer you can crank, the better the ice cream - just don't overdo it and break anything). But if you can find two freezers - one electric and one crank - with tops that are interchangeable, here's what I do. Start making it with the electric top. Let it go until the motor stops, then quickly switch to the crank top. Be careful not to let the tub float up and trap ice underneath! Now, (since you have two machines) you can immediately start a second batch, perhaps a different recipe or flavor, in the second tub with the electric motor. By the time it stops on this batch, the first one should be done so that the crank top can be switched over to batch two. This saves a LOT of cranking, plus you can make twice the ice cream in much less time!

Ice Cream hand crankers

I've looked all over the place online for a durable hand-cranker, and have had absolutely zero results. Everything offered nowadays is either electric, soft serve, or commercial use. We managed to lose TWO hand crankers in changing our residence 10 years ago. Would anyone on your site have an idea where I might find one without any plastic gears which have a tendency to break?

Thank you.

Ice cream

I grew up in a large extended family that always made ice cream. The younger kids would take turns sitting on the machine while the adults cranked it. Such great memories! As an adult, we’ve purchased several ice cream makers over the years. They just don’t make them like they used to! Our favorite flavor is banana chocolate chip!

Home made ice cream

I am 60 years young now and I remember at first fighting with my brothers and sister on who would crank first and then fighting about who had to crank towards the end! We now have an electric one and plan to make ice cream on Father's Day. We attempted to make it on Mother's Day but my dad forgot the sugar. It was still good and we just added flavoring to our taste. So you can have sugar-free ice cream. My favorite flavor is pineapple.

Peanut butter ice cream

I have not had much luck making peanut butter ice cream. It has come out almost tasting dry... not sure what I'm doing wrong. Anyone have a good recipe? I like to put some homemade fudge sauce on it, delightful!

Crank up the ice cream!

As a child, myfamily would get the old ice cream maker and have fun turning the crank. My made used to make a custard with eggs, cream, sugar, vanilla and whatever fruit was available, sometimes just plain vanilla. YUM! I learned so much about the science of how it came to be ice cream. A great learning experience with some delicious results.

Old fashioned icecream

I remember me and my siblings taking turns at the icecream hand crank machine some 50 years back. My mother used to make vanilla icecream and it was heavenly, never tasted icecream like that again. The last time was in the summer of 1970 during our family relocation from Pune to Delhi in India. We had a whole train boggy to our selves and with a huge block ice and it was vanilla icecream fun all the way. Will never forget that experience. Wonder where the machine went??

ice cream memories

when we were kids the highlight of all family re-unions was the making of ice cream by hand.
we kids would line up to take our turn to crank the machine. adults got us to do the hard work willingly.

Who is the author of "The

Who is the author of "The Forgotten Arts Book Four" that this article is sourced from? Thanks.

Favorite ice cream memories

My daddy used to make fresh Georgia peach ice cream on hot Saturday afternoons in the 1960's . WOW!!! A special treat and wonderful memories of family were made waiting for our turn at the crank handle. Kids today have no idea how much fun they are missing with the simple life...

How to make old-fashioned ice cream

Your recommendation to use raw milk is extremely dangerous and illegal in many states. Raw milk has not been pasteurized to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present and is unsafe for human consumption.
Would you take a chance with your grandchildren? Listeria or E. coli is certainly no fun.

Use of Raw Milk in Ice Cream

Stop the shaming....really? It depends on whether you know where the milk came from. I grew up on raw unpasteurized milk and I never got sick. Actually, we were all pretty healthy and I still have strong bones at 53. My mom had a milk cow. People are so crazy now.

Use of Raw Milk

I so agree. We grew up on raw milk and no ill effects. So many things from my life, all of a sudden, are bad for me now to believe all the crap circulating. Raw milk, loving on our chickens, etc. My chickens, like the cows my mom milked are healthy and never crowded in inhumane boxes....Maybe that's the clue to being able to have natural products that taste a whole heck of a lot better!!!!! Big industry and gov control. Sure wish I had some raw milk now!

Home made ice cream

I am a senior citizen now, but I sure do remember the days of the hand-cranked ice cream freezer. Now, I use an electric type. My all-time favorite is lemon. I do a custard base. I have recently learned to use lemon OIL rather than extract for flavoring. It is much smoother tasting.

Yes, most of today's commercial ice creams are sorely lacking in rich cream and have a ton of additives. Yuk. One major chain grocery has a new store brand that tastes like watered down milk with little flavor. How dare they.

Lemon Ice cream

Would you share your lemon ice cream recipe? My aunt used to make lemon ice cream at the ice cream socials we used to go to as a kid and I want to make some for my grandaughter.

Past fun

When we had cranked ice cream Daddy would put newspaper or rags on top and each child sat on it for a few minutes to help hold the ice cream maker it in place. It was always hot when we had ice cream so sitting on the ice for a few minutes was a treat.

We've been experimenting with

We've been experimenting with crazy homemade ice cream recipes this summer..... Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream was a hit with the kids!

My grandson is lactose

My grandson is lactose intolerant, is it possible to make it lactose free?

You can make ice cream using

The Editors's picture

You can make ice cream using lactose-free whole milk. The texture and consistency will be a little different, but it should still taste the same.

I would like to have recipes

I would like to have recipes for ice cream that does NOT use an ice cream maker.
I like ice cream that sets up in the freezer.

i have made ice cream at the

i have made ice cream at the campground by using two coffee cans! one large and one small.
one pint milk or half and half
1/4 cup sugar (i think)
a 1/4 tsp of vanilla, or a flavor
of your choice
mix ingredients in the small can and seal the lid (a clear lid is best to see when the ice cream is done!) with two or three wraps of masking tape. put into large can and layer one cup of rocksalt with ice around the small can. put the lid on the large can. again a clear lid helps here. you may also want a wrap of tape to keep the lid on.
So! now comes the fun part!
roll the can back and forth across the table for 15 to 20 min. and there you have some ice cream.

I have made ice cream at the

Now, that is what I call a seeet innovation! Thanks for sharing.

My dad made ice cream when we

My dad made ice cream when we were kids, some 30 plus years ago. He used an electric motored machine; I recall how excited he was to have real ice cream without having to hand crank. Our milk came from a local dairy operator, raw cream on top! Dad had a dwarf peach tree and he enjoyed peach ice cream as a special favorite. Both the tree and Dad are gone now, the memories of home made ice cream re-create a special time for me.

me too. Recently my store

me too. Recently my store has received about five manual crank can. Brought back many memories for me. So, I did a video with some older ladies who were here last Thursday night. It was fun and oh so true in so good old day. Please google all-aroundconsignments on face book, then friend me I'll accept, and then then you can see the video. I promise, no strings attached. You can look at my website first if you like. I'm on the web now looking for "real" photos from those days to show the younger folks how we did it.