Friday, July 03, 2009

Happy 4th of July - a day early

When I was considering topics for this Fourth of July column, I was coming up with a blank. I thought about the flag, the parades, the firecrackers, and the weather, which is usually hotter than the devil’s blow dryer.

Then my wife Jilda asked what my favorite thing was about the Fourth of July when I was growing up. That was easy! Homemade ice cream.

When I was a kid, my family spent holidays at the home of one of our aunts. We had more aunts than holidays so each year we rotated the Forth of July celebration between Aunt Edith and Aunt Nanny’s.

The food at these celebrations was always “off the charts”. Turkey with dressing, ham, fresh corn on the cob, fried squash, okra, tomatoes, and every other country vegetable you can imagine.

When it came to deserts, none of my mama’s sisters were slouches. They always tried to out do each other with cakes, pies, puddings, cobblers, and brownies. I had cousins that would poke you in the eye with a sharp stick to get the last piece of Aunt Edna’s red velvet cake.

The drill was the same every year. About an hour before lunchtime, the grownups would assemble a cadre of kids to man the ice cream freezers. We always had the obvious flavors, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry but we also had banana, peach, pecan, and lime sherbet.

My favorite was the black walnut that my mama made. I had equity in this batch of ice cream because I had to crack the nuts. Cracking pecans is a piece of cake, but a black walnut has an outer skin as thick as a coconut and the only way to get at the goodie is with a hammer. By the time I got enough walnuts for a decent batch of ice cream, I’d beat the thumbs and fingers off both hands.

So naturally, I was partial to the black walnut ice cream on the “Fourth”.

This year, Jilda and I decided to buy our own ice cream freezer. When we got to shopping around for a decent model, we discovered that they cost just slightly less than a Honda Civic.

I always thought using an electric ice cream freezer was kind of like cheating so we decided on a White Mountain hand crank model. I was working when Jilda called the salesman to say we wanted the hand crank model. He asked if we had kids and when she told him no, he convinced her to go with the electric model. “Tell him if he doesn’t like the electric, you can return it and I’ll send the hand crank model at no extra charge. Cranking a freezer is fun when you a kid, but it’s not nearly as much fun when you get a little older.” Looking back, I’m glad we listened.

We made our first batch of vanilla ice cream this past weekend. We don’t eat a lot of sweets, so when we do, we use the good stuff. No low fat, artificial sweetener for us.

When we uncapped that canister and dipped a spoonful into our mouth, all I could say was Yam-jouir. This is a hybrid American-French word I made up which means “really good!” I almost did an ice cream dance right there on the deck.

So this Fourth of July, we’ll be celebrating with all the usual cuisine, but you can bet your firecracker we’ll whip up a batch of homemade ice cream.

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