The tradition of ice cream socials dates back to the 1800s. They were held at family or church gatherings, usually on summer weekends.
My husband, Gary James, remembers attending many ice cream socials during his childhood in the '50s. The gatherings took place outdoors, in a backyard or even at the fairgrounds if the group was big enough.
"Imagine half a dozen aunts and uncles, and countless cousins playing all over the place," he said. "All the aunts had at least one crank-turner and one kid --the kid being a key ingredient in the process. There were picnic tables covered in fried chicken, corn on the cob, green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes and gravy…Sometimes they also brought homemade cakes. The smells were a cornucopia of barbecue, beans and an occasional six-pack of beer snuck in by Uncle Bob."
The ice cream was the culmination of the meal. At that time, Gary said, people could buy ice cream in the store, but part of the fun was to make it yourself.
The original ice cream maker is a half-gallon hand-cranked metal container with wooden paddles inside the can. When the crank handle is turned, the paddles turn inside the can to blend the ice cream as it starts to freeze. The mechanism sits inside a wooden bucket filled with ice and rock salt, which ensures a consistent freezing pattern.
"As the ice cream started to harden in the ice cream maker, it became harder to hold the bucket in one place," Gary said. "It was the job of one or more of the small kids in the family to sit on the ice cream maker to hold it in place during the last minutes of the freezing process while they were still cranking it."
When the ice cream was ready, the crank and the can were removed. They tried to scrape as much ice cream as possible back into the can but couldn't get it all. A portion was always left on the paddles.
"The treat for the 'sitter' was the honor of licking the paddles clean when they were removed from the bucket," Gary said. "That ice cream had a texture that can't be matched by any store-bought product that we have today."
It is possible to add fruit, such as peaches, strawberries or bananas as well as chocolate, coffee or whatever your imagination dictates to enhance the flavor. You can also add those as toppings later.
"I like peach the best, but I'll eat any of it," Gary said. "Later they came up with a machine with an electric motor. But you could never get the ice cream to freeze as hard as with the old ones because of the heat off of the motor itself. It was kinda mushy."
Last summer, our first in Hobbs, we decided to have a "mini ice cream social" with a couple of new friends. I found a White Mountain Hand-Crank ice cream maker in a thrift shop and made the easiest recipe I could find--vanilla ice cream. It took us around an hour between preparation and the actual ice cream-making process, and another hour to clean everything. But the smooth texture and soft consistency of the ice cream were worth the effort.
Here is my recipe for the perfect summer cool-down.
Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes 10-12 servings
2 cups half-and- half
1 1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 whole egg
1 cup cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 dash of salt
2 cups of rock salt
3 cups of crushed ice (the finer the ice is crushed, the better; it will give a smoother texture to the ice cream.)
1 cup cold water
Combine half-and-half, evaporated milk, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla in a bowl and mix them well. It's better to put the evaporated milk at the end, after the egg, sugar and half and half are well blended.
Place the mixture in the ice cream maker can. Insert paddles and lid and put the can in the bucket, following the manufacturer's instructions. (If you buy it secondhand, as I did, just Google them.) Make sure that the can is centered at the bottom of the bucket.
Pack a mix of eight parts crushed ice to one part rock salt around ice cream can. Make sure the ice is firmly packed down. Pour a cup of cold water over the ice and salt.
Give it some time (three to five minutes) before beginning the process.
Start turning the handle. It will be easier at first, but as the ice cream starts to freeze, it will become harder. This takes from 20 to 30 minutes. It can be really tiring! It helps having people around to help you churn. If there are only two people working and no kids to sit on the bucket, one can put a foot on top of the bucket to keep it steady.
By now, you can remove the paddles from the can and enjoy your ice cream!
But if you want it harder, drain off ice and salt blend and replace it with a new mixture. Pack down again, let it set for an hour and serve.
Make sure to rinse all the parts of the ice cream maker to avoid corrosion. You can also grease the metal parts to help preserve the machine.
** You can order old-fashioned hand crank ice cream makers from Sears, Amazon and eBay, but sometimes you can luck out and find good ones in local thrift shops.
You can read the Spanish version of this story here.