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4th of July Traditions

Add a bucket, crank, rock salt, ice, canister, milk, cream, vanilla, sugar, eggs, and arm strong power to take any summer celebration over the top. As a kid, I loved arriving at a gathering where men sat or knelt circled around a good size wooden or plastic bucket and each took a turn cranking a long metal handle. Oftentimes, a child perched atop the bucket to stabilize the turning device. I knew when I saw this, it didn’t mean the guys were just telling good stories. It meant we’d soon be eating homemade ice cream.

To this day, my mom always asks if we’re having ice cream when we gather for the 4th of July. Of course, Mom. It’s tradition. This national holiday signals that  it’s time to break out Grandma Lottie’s recipe to stir up a gallon of old-fashion goodness. Over the years, we’ve added extras such as homemade chocolate sheet cake and chock-full-of-butter hot fudge to accompany our sweat-busting, brain-freezing, tongue- tingling frozen concoction. These aren’t necessary. However, fresh cranked ice cream is a required part of this grand country’s birthday celebration.

In grandma’s early years, this was an inexpensive confection. Cows and chickens produced the milk,  cream, and eggs. Lottie saved to buy sugar and vanilla. Her iceman delivered a block of ice that the men attacked with an old-fashion ice pick until it was broken into small enough pieces to put in the ice cream pail. After the women measured and mixed the ingredients and poured them in the canister, menfolk  lined the sides with the chunks of ice  layered with rock salt. They then took turns cranking that long handle. Youngsters got the early, easy turns while stronger men saved their muscles for that moment the mixture began to freeze and thicken. You could see how close the ice cream was to completion by how hard the guy in charge of the crank strained to keep that silver canister spinning.

Now days, we’ve simplified matters at our house. It’s more expensive, but it involves far less year-round labor. We buy milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and already cubed ice at the market and fresh eggs from local chicken ladies. That saves feeding and cleaning stalls and coops throughout the year. It’s not quite as fresh as Grandma’s, but it works. We also cheat on the cranking.  About ten years ago, we bought an electric ice cream freezer. No longer does a family member have to sit hunched in half while he turn, turn, turns that long handle. I mix the brew, fill the cask, put it in the bucket, and pour in my layers of salt and ice. Then, poof, whammo, I plug it in and magic begins.

Now, instead of sensing how hard the canister is rotating, I listen for the motor to strain as ingredients solidify. The result is every bit as good as Lottie’s ice cream. However, I miss listening to the men sitting around that old wooden bucket, swapping stories while a little one perched atop the pail like an old-fashioned weather vane.