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.
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.
Tips for Making the Best Homemade Ice Cream
- If it’s available, use raw milk and its cream for your homemade ice cream. Farmers will usually sell it during their milking hours if you bring your own container. Raw cream will bring out the flavors of your ice cream a lot more than store-bought cream and it will give it a creamier consistency.
- Use the freshest ingredients available to you, especially fruits 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
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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!
Homemade Ice Cream Recipes
Want some more recipes? Browse our Summer Recipe archives!