I had a near-miss disaster this past weekend. The kind that makes your heart sink. My breathing was irregular. My mind was spinning a hundred miles an hour. In a split second I went from euphoria to utter despondency. The kind that turns your innards to mush and makes you feel like giving up on life.
My ice cream churn died.
If you know me at all, you know that I like homemade ice cream. This affection goes back to my childhood days when on a hot summer Saturday afternoon my Dad would make an announcement to our little family.
“We should make some ice cream this evening.”
He might as well have told us that we had just won the prize behind door #3 on the Price Is Right. An exotic trip to some white sand beach dotted with palm trees and a hotel swimming pool the size of an ocean was just a pipe dream to us. But homemade ice cream was real, which made it better than most things that we dreamed of but would never have.
Mom would put the fixings together in that tall metal can and stick it in the refrigerator on the back porch. We had an old white Frigidaire with the metal pull handle that we kept when Mama upgraded in the kitchen. We used it for extra cooling and freezer space when needed.
Dad kept used plastic one gallon milk jugs of water in the freezer. Sometimes the Thanksgiving turkey went in there and the jugs had to be moved out.
When it came time for ice cream, Dad would take a couple of those jugs of ice, like blocks from the icehouse. He’d set them down in a #10 wash tub and cut the plastic off them. My job was to take an ice pick and get them ready to go into the ice cream churn.
The churn was made of cedar with metal bands around the outside, not much different than some of the old buckets we had in the barn. The head of the crank sat down over the shaft connected to the paddle down inside the can, and it locked with two metal latches on either side.
Most times I sat outside to turn the crank. I plopped down on the concrete step at the back porch door. The churn sat between my feet on a piece of scrap marble that was imbedded in the grass just in front of the step. I always thought it looked a little bit like the state of Arkansas and wondered where it came from.
The tub of ice sat on the ground next to me. I’d scoop handfuls of ice into the churn, add rock salt and crank away.
“Your arms getting tired yet?” my dad would ask.
“No sir. I can keep going.” I lied. My arms were burning but I didn’t want to let on that I was weak.
The pinnacle of homemade ice cream was the summer revival at Berea Christian Church each year. The week of preaching and singing was well attended back in those days. No one had condos at the beach and smart phones in the 1960s, so a revival could attract a pretty good crowd.
Throw in some homemade ice cream on a Thursday night after services, and they turned out in droves.
The competition was stiff. If you think that church ladies take pride in their fried chicken and peach cobbler, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen 47 churns of homemade ice cream set out on display in the fellowship hall in early August.
The flavors seemed endless. Vanilla, of course, was the featured favorite. And some vanillas were way better than others. Then there was peach and chocolate and strawberry. Miss Dozier always made the peanut butter which attracted a lot of the men folk. I can’t be sure but seems like there were a few bizarre flavors like watermelon and cheesecake.
Homemade ice cream can push a man into a coma if eaten liberally. Two bowls is never enough. You work through the brain freezes and keep going until you collapse. That’s the way it works because the opportunity comes along so seldom.
I introduced my son-in-law to homemade ice cream several years ago. He now owns two churns and sends me a text each spring to inform me when his first batch is underway.
“Let the season begin,” he says.
So, a few weeks ago when I had a bunch of guys from the church over for supper, I made some ice cream. I pulverized a pack of Oreo cookies and put them in the mix. It was an experiment that turned into something absolutely amazing.
One of the young guys even said to me, “I didn’t know you could make ice cream.”
You would have thought that I had introduced him to the King of England. I take pride in leading young men in the way of new discoveries.
I use an electric churn these days. Blue plastic. White top. I set it down in the utility sink in the laundry room and let it churn away.
When I cleaned up later that evening, I took the plastic top with the motor and set it on top of the washing machine. Just getting it out of the way while I washed up the churn. I got busy and forgot about the top.
A few nights later, while eating supper, I heard a crash that came from the laundry room. There was a load of clothes in the washer on spin cycle. I went to check on the noise. The washer was gyrating like there was an earthquake. The top to the churn had vibrated off, hit the floor and the edge was cracked. But it looked functionable.
I never gave it another thought.
For Memorial Day, I had grilled burgers on the menu to be followed up by homemade ice cream. Straight up Vanilla this time. Lots of Half and Half Cream. Evaporated Milk. One egg. A can of Eagle brand condensed milk. A couple scoops of Dixie Crystal sugar. And a touch of vanilla extract.
I prepped everything ahead of time and stuck the metal can in the big freezer to chill it all down.
I was giddy to say the least. I could already feel the brain freeze coming on just thinking about it.
Then disaster struck. When I put the top on the churn and plugged it in, all I got was a hum. Nothing was happening. No churning at all.
The fall from the washing machine had done more damage than I thought. I walked around the kitchen with the motor in my hand almost in tears. I banged on it. I pleaded with it.
In desperation, I plugged it in one more time. I then got down on my knees like the good Christian man that I am and banged it on the floor hard enough to wake the dead.
It came to life. It whirred, a little noisy but it was working. And the day was saved.
Homemade ice cream is what makes the world churn.