For as long as I can remember, spring and summer (and maybe fall and winter as well if I’m honest) have been marked by one thing: ICE CREAM. The buying of it, the making of it, the gathering around of it, just the overall consumption of it. I’ll venture to say that I don't know one person who doesn’t like the creamy rich concoction. Sometimes I think men are bigger fans than women because literally every man I know is an ice-cream lover - and I mean LOVER…my husband, my son, my son-in-law, my dad, my brother, my brother-in-law, my nephew, my grandson -- they all adore the stuff. And as long as you have ice cream in the freezer, there is no need to prepare an elaborate dessert; ice cream, like love, is all we need. This heavenly combination of milk or cream (or both) and sugar plus a few other magical ingredients like vanilla extract or cocoa has accompanied many a cake to celebrate birthdays, has been the base for milkshakes enjoyed by lovers through a shared straw, and has been served at literally every special occasion known to man, including weddings! It could possibly be considered the food of royalty. One thing is for sure: it is the ultimate comfort food and heals pretty much anything that ails you. It has been the medicine that's cured many a tonsillectomy and the mender of many a broken heart.
Growing up it seemed that folks made ice cream at home more often, especially in the summer. I don’t know if store-bought ice cream was not as readily available or if (like many things in the ol’ days) we just knew that homemade was better than store-bought. But there was hardly a Memorial Day or 4th of July celebration where old-fashioned churned ice cream was not the star of the show. Yes, it was trouble. Yes, it was work. Yes, it took what seemed like hours to freeze and then it was gone before you could lick your spoon for a second serving (those darn tiny little freezer compartments). But it was always – always – worth the wait. There was simply nothing like mama mixing up her own custard recipe; it had a flavor like nothing else. Sometimes we added peaches or bananas but plain ol’ vanilla was okay by me. Over the years, it’s been imitated but never duplicated. I haven’t been to a gathering in a very long time where homemade ice cream has been churned and it’s a crying shame. Oh, the pouring of the custard; the packing of the ice and salt; the hours of cranking. But the delight of that first creamy spoonful…heavenly.
But in case you think I never got to go out for ice cream, we did have our favorite places to go for a summertime treat as a kid. We had our ice cream parlors and burger joints that served up the good stuff. We had a place called Dipper Dan in the seventies who created crazy flavors like pink bubble gum and grape (as in Kool-Aid grape, yuk!), and to this very day Baskin-Robbins' peanut butter & chocolate will pull me in every time I go there. It has some kind of a weird hold on me. The local Dairy Queen has gotten more of our money than the power company if truth be known, what, with their Blizzard temptations and such. If I had the cash for every Blizzard I've bought in my lifetime, I'd probably have enough for a deposit on a small house. But growing up, there also happened to be a hamburger place called Zesto's nearby and I think there might be one left in Atlanta, but nowhere near where I live now. I have great food memories of that place and I remember first of all the burgers with their coarsely-chopped onions, but I also remember the ice cream. Chocolate-dipped vanilla cones were my favorite and to this day I still love a good chocolate-dipped cone. I’ll never forget one time when my mom took us kids for an ice cream at Zesto’s. We piled into mama's big green Chrysler (affectionately nicknamed the boat) and I informed her I wanted the biggest cone they had. My mom probably should've denied that request because I was already sporting a few more pounds than I needed for my tween frame but I got my huge ice cream and, when they handed it to me, needless to say I was quite embarrassed. It was at least ten inches tall, if not a full foot! I felt just like I did when I had made myself two sandwiches for my school lunch and a girl (part friend; mostly enemy!) at my table said, "Oh, you eat two sandwiches for lunch?" I wanted to morph into someone with invisible powers or maybe just crawl under the table, but I guess it wasn't the norm for a lady to indulge in two sandwiches in the presence of other more discriminating and disciplined folk. Again, where was my mom when I was making those sandwiches? But without remembering completely, I am quite sure I got over my embarrassment and scarfed the entire ice cream cone down without an ounce of guilt (not sure about the sandwiches).
Over the years ice cream has gotten a bad rap with all the fat and sugar, so we've tried to make it healthier by creating low-fat options, fat-free options, sugar-free options, and even substitutes like frozen yogurt, which ironically has just as much sugar but something about the yogurt name makes us feel like it is healthier. We've tried to highlight the benefits of dairy products, including ice cream, and its calcium and vitamin-D attributes. And just like chocolate, it can be considered a part of a healthy diet, as long as it's consumed in moderation. Well, where is the fun in that? That word moderation gets me every time! But folks love the frozen delight and they're gonna continue to eat it and I feel quite sure that fact will never become fiction. So much to my chagrin, it appears that the rule of moderation totally applies to ice cream like so many other things in life where we are prone to overindulge. But I guess if I have to choose, I'll take a 1/2-cup serving over none at all. None at all is not an option.
As summer swings into full motion officially in a few days, I wish you summertime delights of every conceivable kind...days at the beach...burgers on the grill...pool parties with the kids...evenings roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire pit...and ice cream -- lots and lots of it.
But only in 1/2-cup intervals unless, like me, you want to wear it like a built-in life preserver around your mid-section when you have your pool party. I am a really good floater. Ugh.
Happy summer, y'all!
Posted by CC
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