On my last visit home to Wisconsin, one of my oldest friends and I were at the thrift store and came across a used ice cream maker which got us talking. She swears by her hand crank model but I love the convenience of my electric one.
She says her son discovered that using kosher salt works better than rock salt because smaller crystals keep the temperature of the churn consistently colder than bigger chunks do. I said I think that the hand crank and that salt thing is a mess either way. She likes egg-based ice cream recipes because she keeps hens and is always looking to cook things that’ll use up what her egg-layers give. I use eggless recipes instead, because I don’t have chickens so I don’t have a steady supply of fresh eggs, and while I like the richness of a custardy ice cream – actually cooking custards is too finicky for me. I just don’t have the knack for it.
It was the kind of meandering conversation you get to have with someone you’ve known forever, in the ease and comfort of each other’s company, catching up.
I also found that out our differences go way beyond ice cream makers, and recipes and into the realm of politics. She’s on one side of the political spectrum and I’m on the other. I asked how come she never brought it up before? She reminded me and rightly so that we were taught as kids that you didn’t discuss religion or politics because it wasn’t polite and didn’t show good upbringing. Besides she explained, that she’s resigned to just being quiet, and not say anything in this chaotic, mean-spirited political climate. She feels like there’s been no point in talking to the “other side,” because they don’t and won’t listen. The thing is, now that’s us. Me and her.
So we’re treading lightly into this new territory out of respect. As prickly and polarizing as it all is. She reassures me that we have 40 years of friendship that’ll always bind us together.
So this got me thinking that this Thanksgiving it’s really important to me to make ice cream. For me, it’s more than a gesture. It’s an intention. Maybe we could all make ice cream. Alot of it.
I’m eyeing all the things in my kitchen pantry that I can use to infuse heavy cream, whole milk and sugar. And I’ve decided that I want to make ice creams that are singular and unexpected – each with its own essence like fresh ginger, star anise, licorice root, beets and even black peppercorns – which makes a surprisingly fragrant and delicious flavor.
One of the beautiful things about ice cream – besides making people happy - is that the milk fat in it absorbs and retains flavors.
Try eating it like this – scrape a little bit of it onto your spoon, then put it your mouth upside down so the ice cream just rests to melt on your tongue. As it does, breathe in gently through your nose, focusing on what happens when the aromas from that glorious fat expand and release in the melt, creating some wonderful and weird goodness and sweet joy.
I’m also going to give my ice creams one-word names to match their singularity and call them things like: Help. Thanks. Listen. Kindness. Then as the pints get passed around the table and people help themselves, I’ll watch as my loved ones with ice cream melting slowly on their tongues - try and guess what flavors are being revealed and released. What are they experiencing? And then I’m going to ask them to try and describe it. I’ll let you know what I find out.
I use Jeni Britton’s ice cream base recipe from her book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. The only adaptation I make is that, instead of using her method of cooling it down in an ice bath, I pour it into a bowl and let cool overnight in the fridge. Her book is an inspiration to try new flavors.
Here’s my adaptation of Jeni’s Ice Cream Base, with an infusion of black peppercorns if you want. This recipe makes about one quart.
2 cups whole milk
4 tsp. cornstarch
1 1⁄4 cups heavy cream
1/2 - 2⁄3 cup sugar
¼ cup black peppercorns
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
In a bowl, stir together 1⁄4 cup whole milk and the cornstarch; set slurry aside.
In a 4-qt. saucepan, whisk together remaining milk and the cream, sugar, syrup, and salt. (Add the black peppercorns at this stage if you’re going to use them.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Cook for 4 minutes.
(If you’ve used black peppercorns, sieve them out at this stage. Though you want a stronger black peppercorn experience you can let this mixture steep, off heat, for another ten minutes or so. Then sieve off black peppercorns and return this base to your saucepan and proceed with next steps.)
Stir in slurry.
Return to a boil and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes.
Place cream cheese in a bowl and pour in 1⁄4 cup hot milk mixture; whisk until smooth. Then whisk in remaining milk mixture.
Pour mixture into a bowl, cover with a gap so steam can release and chill overnight.
Pour mixture into an ice cream maker; process according to manufacturer's instructions.
Transfer ice cream to a storage container and freeze until set.