Ice Cream

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Making ice cream was a delicious and special summertime treat for farm families in the early 1900s. Without the convenience of electricity, making ice cream was as much of an event, as it was a dessert.


Ice was the most difficult ingredient to obtain in the middle of the hot summer, before the days of electric refrigerators or freezers.


In areas of the United States where rivers and lakes froze in the wintertime, men harvested large blocks of ice, using saws and horses. The ice was stored between thick layers of sawdust in insulated buildings called icehouses and sold throughout the year. The frozen blocks of ice could last through the next summer in an icehouse, if they weren't sold first.


To make ice cream on the farm at that time, the family used fresh ingredients, a hand-crank ice cream freezer, ice chips, rock salt, time and energy, plus some patience.


1. Ingredients:
Milk and heavy cream, from the cows
Eggs, from the chickens
Sugar and bit of salt, from the general store in town
Vanilla extract, from the store, though a mail-order catalog, or purchased from a traveling salesman

Optional flavorings: seasonal fruits, from the orchard or berry bushes, or chunks of brown sugar and syrup from the store.

Usually, the milk, sugar, eggs and salt were cooked into a soft custard and cooled, before the cream, vanilla and optional flavorings were added. The combined ingredients were poured into the ice cream freezer's metal can and the device, with interior dashers for mixing, was assembled and sealed. Chipped ice and rock salt were placed around the freezer can, between it and the outside barrel.


2. A hand-crank ice cream freezer was available by mail-order catalog. By turning the crank over and over again, the dashers inside the freezer container kept the ingredients moving, as the mixture gradually became frozen ice cream. The machine could be purchased in sizes from two to twenty quarts.


The invention of the hand-crank freezer, patented in the 1840s, was a big improvement over hurriedly stirring the mixture with a spoon in a bowl, set into another bowl of ice and rock salt.

Another method was using two sealed cans of different sizes. The smaller one, with the ingredients, was sealed and put into a larger one, packed with ice and rock salt. The outer can was also sealed and rolled back and forth in a mixing action.

3. Blocks of ice were needed to chip into pieces and pack around the freezer can, containing the liquid ingredients. Buying block ice was the last thing a farm family did before returning home on a trip to town, because it began to melt right away. To slow down the melting, farmers put the ice blocks under burlap sacks, old newspapers or straw for the journey home in their wagon or buggy. Visitors from town might bring along block ice on their way out to the farm. Pieces of sawdust, from storage in the icehouse, were washed off the block ice at home with water from the hand pump. The block was chipped down into smaller pieces of ice to fit between the inner can and the exterior barrel of the ice cream freezer.


4. Rock salt, from the general store in town, was essential to making ice cream in the hand-crank freezer. By adding rock salt to the ice chips, and packing both around the sealed can in the ice cream freezer, the resulting salt water lowered the temperature below freezing. As the hand-crank was turned over and over, the liquid ingredients in the container were mixed by the inside dashers and ice cream gradually formed. It usually took more than half an hour of continuous cranking for this to happen.


5. Time and energy. Cranking was easy at first, but it became more difficult, as the ingredients cooled and thickened. Family members or guests often took turns cranking the freezer. More chips of ice and salt were added around the freezer can as needed.


6. Patience. After the handle of the ice cream freezer became too difficult to turn, the mixing was finished. The device was disassembled and the dashers removed, so that the ice cream would be easier to scoop. The cover was replaced on the freezer can, sealed, and the ice cream was left to "cure" at least an hour in its container, under a packed layer of ice and salt, covered by towels or newspapers. The curing time improved the flavor and texture of the ice cream. As time passed, additional chipped ice and salt were added around sealed ice cream can to keep it frozen.


The homemade ice cream was especially tasty to those volunteers who had helped crank the handle. It was considered a special treat to clean the ice cream dashers, pulled from the freezer can.


A mother or father often made certain that the dashers had a good amount of fresh ice cream left on them for the children to enjoy while they waited for the remaining ice cream to cure.
Since there was no way keep any leftover ice cream frozen in summertime, every bit had to eaten, or it melted.