by Sandra Brandt
“…your own homemade ice cream repertoire can also include delicious coconut milk or banana, rather than cream-based recipes. Another big plus to making your own ice cream is choosing your own sweetener…”
“It is said that ice cream is not food, it is medicine, capable of curing melancholy and lifting spirits, drowning sorrows and bringing smiles to the most defeated of little soccer players.” (sci-toys.com)
My first memory of ice cream as a child was my aunt bringing a carton of it to my house as a treat. In those days, it was sold in the grocery store as a brick wrapped in cardboard paper packaging. Later, childhood memories also include fairly regular family car drives in summertime to the soft serve stand in our town, and in later years of growing up, almost daily servings of ice cream (from a gallon pail) as a convenient suppertime dessert.
Going back a little further in the history of this popular food, stories abound concerning how it evolved, many of them somewhat mythical. Supposedly, ancient historical rulers dispatched slave runners to bring snow down from the mountains and bring it back still frozen to be served at the royal table topped with fruit. Since the development of edible frozen foods was dependent on the invention of cooling equipment, especially in the summer when cold foods tend to be more palatable, it was not until the past few centuries that this became practically possible. Eventually, the rich dairy version of the sweet frozen dessert became popular, first for the more well-to-do, then trickling down to the more common folk. The first hand-cranked ice cream device, using ice and salt which lowers the freezing point of a liquid, was patented in 1843. The second half of the 1800s saw commercial ice cream production gradually develop and gain a foothold in the emerging food industry. It became popular in the form of sodas, sundaes, cones, soft serve, and eventually also as individual convenience store treats as well.
There is, of course, a wide variance in quality of ice cream products on the market, and correspondingly, in price. Generally, as would be expected, the cheaper the product, the more additives and processed ingredients are used, and also the more air may be pumped into it to inflate the volume. Commercial ice cream may legally contain up to 50% air by volume, which is one reason the cheaper brands can be sold in such large pails at an affordable price. Premium brands normally have a higher fat content and less air in their composition. (Soft serve ice cream has a larger amount of air incorporated into it, and is also served at a slightly higher temperature to give it a semi solid texture.) Better quality varieties and brands are more likely to contain fresh milk and cream, real eggs, and natural flavourings, rather than powdered and artificial replacement ingredients. Gelato, a popular product based on Italian ice cream processing, contains very little air, and is usually also lower in fat content, as it is not regulated at a minimum of 10% milk fat as ice cream is in North America. It tends to include larger amounts of sugar to compensate and help retain creaminess.
Is ice cream actually good for us? Given the smooth, rich, sweet delicious creaminess of it, one would hope that it is at least somewhat healthy, even beyond the endorphins produced from sheer enjoyment. However, as with most manufactured foods, the answer is not so simple. As already mentioned, many common brands contain a multiplicity of chemical additives that can be problematic for health, which are used for flavouring, texture control, and preservation of certain desirable qualities and as substitutes for more costly “real” traditional ingredients. Not all of these minor ingredients are required to be individually listed on the container. If one could obtain ice cream made with real fresh milk, cream, eggs (used as a stabilizer and to add extra richness), and a healthy natural sweetener, plus optional fresh fruit, nuts, and natural flavourings, it would indeed be a guilt-free treat, when enjoyed in moderation of course. However, such a combination may be hard to come by when shopping in your grocery store.
Fortunately, it’s not difficult to make your own ice cream that meets these standards and tastes delicious, too. And as a bonus, there is lots of finger and spoon-licking fun involved, so it can be a “cool” project for the whole family. For those who are sensitive to dairy products, manufacturers now offer rice, soy, and coconut-based alternatives. These products are very often loaded with additives as well, so are not necessarily health enhancing. However, your own homemade ice cream repertoire can also include delicious coconut milk or banana, rather than cream-based recipes. Another big plus to making your own ice cream is choosing your own sweetener, such as honey, maple syrup, or unrefined cane sugar, with the addition of a few pinches or drops of stevia if you are trying to cut down on the amount of sugars used. These choices would be hard to find in any commercial brands. And remember that the healthy fats in real cream and eggs, especially if they are fresh, local, pastured products, makes them a true “health food” not readily accessible in most purchased ice creams either.
As for necessary equipment, it is generally best to use a designated ice cream maker that chills the mixture faster than simply placing it in a regular freezer, rendering a smoother, creamier product due to less formation of ice crystals. This effect can however be achieved to at least some extent in a regular freezer if the mixture is stirred fairly frequently during the freezing process. Ice cream equipment ranges from the old fashioned ice-and-salt-filled bucket with a hand crank, to modern electric-run machinery. Also popular is the type that uses a pre-frozen metal bucket to chill the mixture quickly (no fussing with ice and salt) but still retains the traditional use of a manually operated paddle to churn it. (Donvier is a popular brand.) The finished product will usually be semi-solid, and can then be placed in the freezer to further harden, as desired.
Honey Vanilla Yogurt Ice Cream
(adapted from Nourishing Traditions Cookbook)
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp unrefined salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
1/4 tsp stevia powder (optional)
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups heavy cream
1-3/4 cups plain yogurt
1/3 cup rum or brandy (optional: keeps it from becoming
too hard in freezer storage)
Chill mixture well. Freeze in ice cream maker. Makes one litre. (This basic recipe can accommodate many flavour variations.)
Chocolate Beetroot Ice Cream
(adapted from River Cottage recipes)
Roast: 300 grams of beets in a roasting pan with 1cm water covered in foil for an hour or so until tender. When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool. Peel and chop coarsely.
Combine in blender:
4 egg yolks
1 cup unrefined sugar (or less to taste)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp unrefined salt
100 grams melted dark chocolate (or baking chocolate)
Blend until mixture is smooth. Add cream if needed to get it smooth.
Blend in: 500 ml heavy cream (including any cream already used in previous step)
Chill mixture well, than freeze in an ice cream maker.
Instant Berry Ice Cream
(no ice cream equipment required)
Combine in food processor:
1-1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1-1/2 cups frozen berries (or other frozen fruit in small chunks)
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
Add flavourings, such as vanilla to taste. Blend to combine. Makes a soft-serve textured ice cream. To harden further, place in freezer until solidified.
Tropical Fruit Freeze
2 ripe bananas
1 can coconut milk (398 ml size)
1-1/2 cup pineapple/mango chunks
1/2 cup unrefined sugar
1/4 tsp stevia powder (optional)
1/4 tsp unrefined salt
Chill mixture well, then process in ice cream maker.
Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon & Mary Enig, Revised Second Edition, 2001
Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She lives in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached by email: email@example.com. Also see the colour display ad on page 13 of the 19.2 July/August issue of the WHOLifE Journal.