Chill Out

"Why isn't this working?"

This line, muttered by my dad, seems to be the theme song to our father-son projects. Whether we're fixing cars or figuring out something on the computer, there's always a stressful moment of, "Can we really pull this off?"

Today's source of tension: My dad and I are making homemade strawberry ice cream.

My 72-year-old father, who just spewed a "Jesus!" while hunched over a modern ice cream/frozen yogurt maker, is attempting to figure out why the motor of the electric device isn't turning at the desired speed to stir the contents that we've mixed. For now, the pink mixture — a blend of milk, sugar, salt, half and half, vanilla extract, whipping cream, and fresh strawberries — is just sitting there in liquid form.

While my dad tries to solve the mystery, I step back and look at the mess we've created. There are streaks of pink in the utility sink, which is where we've positioned the hard plastic tub that houses the gooey stuff. Small pebbles of rock salt and ice are scattered on the counter and floor. I even notice pink spots on the washing machine nearby.

It looks as if we'd impaled Strawberry Shortcake.

But it's okay, because my dad always finds a way to solve the problem. He's especially trustworthy with this ice-cream-making endeavor. Reason being: His life once depended on it.

My dad, born in 1937, grew up on a Texas dairy farm. My grandparents were usually thin in the pocketbook, causing them to rent (never own) farmhouses near San Antonio. As a result, my dad was put to work as soon as he could wield a milk pail.

There were all sorts of animals on the farm, including cows, which my dad would milk. The stuff was processed there, and local folks came over to buy the wholesome, non-pasteurized goodness. Whatever was left over was turned into butter and ice cream, the latter with the aid of a wood bucket and a hand crank.

During World War II, making ice cream became less popular. Instead of selling milk and making everything at home, my family would take dairy to the creamery in exchange for products like ice cream. Then, in the early 1950s, Dairy Queen expanded its once-humble operations to 1,446 stores. As a result, the making of ice cream at home basically went away.

It's true that creating ice cream isn't as easy as driving over to Baskin-Robbins or Cold Stone Creamery and asking for a scoop or two. However, today's process is much more user-friendly, my dad says, despite the mess we've made. For example, we're using a sturdy plastic container rather than a rickety wood bucket. And, instead of a hand crank that my family would take turns struggling with for up to an hour, we're blessed with an electric motor — though not that lucky, because it's still being a bugger at the moment.

After about 10 minutes, Dad figures out the problem: The motor isn't cranking because the ice cream mixture is too dense. This is our own fault for not reading the instructions, which said to refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. (We had the stuff in there for hours and hours.)

So we improvise. We take the stainless steel canister that contains the mixture out of the hard plastic tub. We dump the ice and rock salt into the sink and fill the tub's interior with hot water. We place the canister back in the plastic tub and let it warm up. After discarding the hot water, we frantically scoop the freezing cold ice out of the sink and back into the tub. With nearly frostbitten hands, we add more layers of rock salt, which will fuse with the ice (salt water has a much lower freezing point than fresh water).

Then, we plug it in. Voilà, the motor turns. The scratchy grinding of the gears is music to our ears.

Twenty minutes later, I'm lounging on the couch, eating homemade strawberry ice cream. And let me tell you, it's really freaking good. It doesn't have the solid consistency of the sometimes rock-hard stuff you buy in bulk at the grocery store; this is more soft-serve style, which is how I prefer it, anyway. I'm especially digging on the fresh strawberries.

I finish the bowl, and instead of going into a sugar coma, I'm motivated to clean up the mess. Maybe because I'd like to cover my tracks in case the Strawberry Shortcake police come looking for their leader.

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Steve Jansen
Contact: Steve Jansen