Hand-Crank Ice Cream for Cranks

I like hand-cranked ice cream, not the kind that runs electrically (or even worse the kind that comes from the store). I read lots of books about pioneers when I was growing up and I loved the stories about sitting on the front porch in the summer and taking turns cranking the ice cream freezer. I also loved to think about how you store ice by first cutting it out of a local lake, river or pond in big blocks, loading them onto sleighs pulled by oxen or horses, and then packing them in sawdust in a spring house or some kind of shack.

I've been making this ice cream a lot around the tower where Squid is located and there are always enough willing volunteers to help me out when the churn gets difficult to turn. There are also lots of questions and on the fourth of july a large contingent of recent Cambridge grads took photos as though I were a tourist attraction. Very bizarre feeling. That's not why I do it, of course. It's because I really don't like my ice cream any other way than fresh out of the churn. And plus you burn all those calories while you're turning it so you don't die of guilt after gorging yourself.
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Step 1: Mixing your ingredients

Picture of Mixing your ingredients
Ice cream is really quite simple to make, but because it is made of so few ingredients the quality of those ingredients is key. I like to use Clover milk and cream, which is a local to the SF Bay Area creamery. You can drive past their cows on the way to the ocean from Petaluma or Sebastopol and see for yourself why the milk tastes so delicious. Use local, fresh ingredients whenever possible.

Ingredients for a basic vanilla recipe:
about a cup of sugar (I like unrefined sugar)
one or two eggs (depending on how rich you want it to taste)
a half gallon of milk
cream (optional)
a vanilla bean

Put all the ingredients except the milk in a bowl and stir. Cream is optional, but when I add it I add about half a cup. It tastes much thicker when you have cream in it, and creamier (obviously).

In the photo you can see two variations we have tried: cookies for a cookies and cream flavor, and fresh strawberries. Using the basic cream recipe above you can easily modify depending upon your current cravings or what's in season. Be creative! This is (one of) the fun parts!

When adding things like strawberries be sure to wash them and remove any stems or pits. We used an immersion blender to blend the berries into the cream mixture. When adding things like cookies you should wait until the end when the ice cream is already frozen and then stir in the cookie bits, otherwise you get a kind of chocolate mush ice cream (that's what we got and it was still yummy).

A note about the vanilla bean: Some people have never scraped the seeds out of a vanilla bean before. It's very easy and rewarding because it smells delicious. Just cut along the vanilla bean the long way and then scrape the seeds out with the back of the knife.

Step 2: Put the mixture into the churn

Picture of Put the mixture into the churn
Once your ingredients are mixed you can pour everything into the quart container. I like to mix the milk in once the rest of the ingredients have been poured because otherwise it's sloshy and harder to move.

From seventh grade science you'll remember that water (and milk is a water-based liquid) expands as it freezes. In a container the size I have I leave about four inches of space between the ingredients and the lid because otherwise your ice cream mixture will slush out of the top as it gets cold.

Here we have the inside of the ice cream churn. This is a White Mountain Triple Motion churn. The wooden dashers move against the inside of the quart container and scrape the sides, and then the inner bit just stays still while everything else moves around it. All of these pieces together conspire to push the milky creamy stuff around and get it all cold and frozen evenly.

The hand-crank ice cream churn was first patented in 1843 by an American woman named Nancy Johnson. There have been modification since then, but as a girl working in a company of male engineers I have to give props to ol' Nancy for coming up with a radical improvement over the old method, which was called the pot-freezer method (a bowl of ice cream mixture inside another bowl with salty ice inside). The hand crank works faster and makes smoother ice cream than the pot-freezer method.

Step 3: Cranking

Here is another very fun step. You can tell your ice cream consumers that they won't get any ice cream unless they help churn and then go into the story of the Little Red Hen if you need to. Basically what you do now is put the machine all together, and then alternate layers of ice and plenty of rock salt (you can also use cheap table salt if you can't find rock salt) in the wooden bucket all around the closed quart container. Then just turn and turn and turn the crank. Trade people when arms get tired. This takes about half an hour if you've used enough salt. The ice cream is done when it's very hard to turn (because it's frozen inside).

What's happening is that the rock salt is lowering the melting temperature of the ice so that an ice-cold bath of water surrounds the metal tank that holds the ice cream inside. Then you are turning the ice cream mixture around and around and chilling it against the sides of the tank until it is all frozen.

Some people like their ice cream to be harder, some people like it softer. I actually love to have soft, fluffy fresh ice cream so once it's really hard to turn, after you've had to have someone help the person who's turning by putting their foot on the machine to hold it steady, and now it's really really hard to turn, THEN you can take the dashers out of the quart container and serve it up. If you like your ice cream very very frozen you should put the quart container BACK in the cold ice-salt mixture and pack ice around it on all sides and let the ice cream sit for a few hours while the cold seeps all the way through the container. (Note that you take the dashers out before you pack it because otherwise the dashers freeze inside the ice cream and you have a heck of a time getting the ice cream out with all that extra metal in the way).

Step 4: Eat up

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Obviously this is everyone's favorite step.

Step 5: TLC for your hand-crank ice cream machine

Picture of TLC for your hand-crank ice cream machine
This is the step AFTER everyone's favorite step, so it's easy to skip out on it. It is, however, one of the most important steps. You must dump out the ice so that the salty water doesn't corrode your beautiful wooden ice cream bucket. You should rinse all the parts well to get all that horrid salt off the metal. Then you should lovingly and devotedly grease all the parts of your machine with sewing machine oil, or butcher block oil, or baby oil (olive oil also works in a pinch, but not as well as petroleum based products).

A well-oiled machine can last a hundred years or more. We still have my grandparents hand-crank White Mountain ice cream churn in the family. Recently at a flea market my best friend and I bought a smaller ice cream churn for $30 that was in perfect condition and it was circa 1920s. So really, take good care of your equipment and it will love you for years.
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jscott442 years ago
Looks GREAT! Homemade ice cream is so worth the little extra effort. Once I started making my own we never bought ice cream from the supermarket since.
pleabargain5 years ago
Oh, only if I could find one of those hand crank I C machines now... thanks for posting!
If you are still looking... https://www.lehmans.com/
vizolty2 years ago
hey.randoms3 years ago
Technically, this is a frozen custard (eggs) rather than ice cream. Also, while eggs will contribute somewhat to flavor, their primary contribution is to increase the fat content of the emulsion in order to limit the development of crystal structures during freezing. Fat, while it can "carry" or disperse some flavor, doesn't really have any flavor of itself: it's whole point here is that its physical effect on limiting the development of the crystals actually changes the way that they interact with your sensory receptors. But the act of churning largely supplants this role. In fact, fats or intensive churning are factor substitutes here and in commercial "ice cream"-- which, since eggs and fats are so cheap relative to the production costs of churning, is almost never "ice cream" at all. #reasonswhywerefat. Just saying.

...also, you should either be using pasteurized eggs or tempering the custard...
Soup to nuts, nothing beats a cold hard batch of hand cranked ice cream on a hot Summer day. Its interesting that you should mention the pioneers because they discovered America. And in the process of discovering America, they discovered a way to cool off and escape the horrible mind madness that is rickets. I as well too dislike store bought Cold Stone "Phony"ery or AppleBee's brand ice cream. Ice cream should be like women, slow churned and black.
Black Ice cream?
Hey AnthonyDeVito; Where did you get the information about Rickets? I was taught that Rickets come from not enough of a certain vitamin , which shows itself by the curving of your shin bones. If I'm wrong please let me know where to get the right definition from. Thanks Ajah
yoyology ajah5 years ago
Rickets is caused by a deficiency in calcium. However, since Vitamin D is necessary for the body to properly absorb calcium, deficiency in D can also contribute to rickets. This is why modern milk is fortified with Vitamin D. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rickets http://www.beyonddiscovery.org/content/view.txt.asp?a=414
ajah yoyology5 years ago
Thanks Yoyology , I appreciate the info. I think my brother had Rickets, at least that is what my mother always said. He was the only child that had rickets out of 6 kids. Thank you, Ajah
That thing is massive compared to mine, I'm jealous. My two cents; if you are worried about using raw eggs (Sam and Ella style) I recommend making custard. It’s not hard to make, tastes good of course and the eggs are cooked. Milk, sugar and a pinch of salt are heated. A portion of the heated mix is added to a bowl of beaten egg yolks to temper them, and then the yolk mixture is stirred into the milk sugar mixture. The mix is heated to 175 and then refrigerated until cold. After it’s cooled, cream and vanilla extract is stirred in. Bean variants are just as easily made, though the bean is not added at the end.
You got that right ! the bonding as well as many of good times that will all ways stand in the minds
Nice ible, btw,* Although you could include photos of the aftermath. Like when the paddles are first removed and a picture of the person holding the paddle with ice cream all over their face, dripping all the way down to their elbows etc.
Fred826645 years ago
wow about 40 years ago Hand-Crank Ice Cream was a thing my grand dad would do every 4th of July. I was a young thing then every one had to spend time on the crank. vary good Ice cream and lots of it ! thanks for the blast back in time
poco4245 years ago
Used to work at a dairy where I mixed the milk to the proper fat content, pasteurized and homogenized it and sent it to packaging machines. One part of the job was to seperate out the cream to make skim Milk (which is the prettiest blue color you've seen, the only reason it looks white in the carton is because nonfat dry milk powder is added to it). We used to sell the cream to a butter maker but sometimes I would turn the top crank on the seperator to the point that the cream was almost butter coming out. I would take about 2 or 3 gallons of that cream home and we would make ice cream out of it. I would get together with the neighbors and we would make all kinds of different types of ice cream. Choc, van, strawberry and some exotic experiments. I always thought the best, however, was the vanilla with extra vanilla (which we got out of Mexico) was the best. Brings back memories of when the children were young. Remind me to tell you about the apple squeezer we had. Quite the outfit. We also had a chicken plucker that worked like a charm.
seedlingproject (author)  poco4245 years ago
Sounds delicious! I love fresh apple juice, too. I wonder if I could convert my ice cream crank into an apple press for apple season.
Had a friend with an orchard that he let go. Used to get a pickup load of apples and took the apple press to the fall festival and let the boy scouts squeeze juice and sell it to the crowd. They had a ball and usually made a pretty tidy sum. This outfit stood about 5' tall and you dumped a load of apples into a chopper which chopped the apples and dumped them into what looked like wooden buckets with every other slat missing. That was slid under the press which had a hand crank on the top that was turned to lower the press plate onto the apples. The amount of juice depended on how much you turned the crank. Used to get quite a bit of juice out of those apples. At the end of the day I would bring the press and the last of the apples home and the neighbors would come over and pick through the apples for good pie apples, then we would squeeze the rest with everyone taking home as much juice as they wanted. Nice thing to do on a fall Saturday afternoon.
stouchet5 years ago
You might need to fill the wooden bucket with water for several hours before hand so the wood swells up and becomes water tight. If your bucket hasn't been used in a while, the salt solution will leak out as the ice melts and the freezer won't get cold enough.
stouchet5 years ago
Make sure you use a lot of salt. If it doesn't get cold enough fast enough, you run the risk of making butter. We did that once. The "ice cream" had a horrible texture and we couldn't eat it. As we sat around talking, we noticed that the "ice cream" in our bowls wasn't melting. Butter.
920335 years ago
In the '70's I had a "Mister Softee" Ice Cream Vending truck with two ice cream machines (Vanilla and Chocolate:, freezers, Milk shake machine, the works, with a 10,000 watt generator on rear...ran a daily route. The Soft Ice Cream was delicious...mix was delivered to my door every three days from Dairy.At end of day when machines were drained I had large bowls of ice cream, either put in the freezers and/or gave away to neighbors (no wonder I was always 'broke'.) :-) Wish I still had it now.I bought a Electric Ice Cream Making Machine...still packed in thebox...maybe someday I'll open it and give it a try.
There is no greater reward than the taste of homemade ice cream. I enjoy my Richmond Cedar Works Dixie Belle very much. I think part of the experience of hand cranking the ice cream is the bonding time you have with the people during the cranking. While some don't see that, they will push through for a chance to taste the finished product.
Keep this awesome tradition alive! I know I will.
cylver8 years ago
Inspiration hit as I was reading, as it is wont to do. Why not weld a sprocket onto the crank, and attach it to a bicycle, stationary or otherwise? A quick spin around the neighborhood, and you'll have a tasty treat at the end!
seedlingproject (author)  cylver8 years ago
Funny idea. I think you'd have to build a sidecar for the ice cream churn itself, which is really bulky and heavy...
who cares! it will show your love of ice cream to everyone and as long as you bring some spoons, you can share some with the people of your neighborhood!
Now all it needs is a stereo on the back, playing music! Hey look! Its the ice cream.... bike.
why not just attach a drill to the crank instead??
Bridel5686 years ago
wouldn't raw eggs give you food poisoning?
Short answer, no, probably not.

Long answer: Raw eggs have been used in all kinds of food for years, from ice cream to mayonnaise. A *very* small percentage of eggs have salmonella, if they have been properly handled, the risk is almost negligible.

One important exception. If you are cooking for very young children or the elderly, or anyone else with a compromised immune system, use an eggless recipe or get pasteurized eggs just to be absolutely safe.

From my own perspective, I've been using raw eggs in food for years, and I've never once had a problem with food poisoning.
OK thanks for for the answer I was just wondering
PKTraceur6 years ago
Is there a certain way to keep the vanilla bean pieces in? I love vanillia bean ice cream with added lemon juice... :) (Eric, you're facing the wrong way!) -PKT
who is squid
seedlingproject (author)  RedneckAsian6 years ago
Squid Labs is a thinktank of people who graduated from MIT Media Labs. One of their projects is Instructables... now an offshoot of the squid project.
mlaurenc6 years ago
HELP! So - I just attempted to make some ice cream using the "Philadelphia" method (no eggs or cooking involved, more quick and dirty, less smooth and creamy, but better for quick production with kids), as seen here (http://www.greatpartyrecipes.com/homemade-vanilla-ice-cream-recipe.html) under "No-cook easy vanilla".

I've never made the base this way before, but it all sounded reasonable... but after almost an HOUR of cranking, we had just a foamy, creamy liquid, still no hardening. Might this have anything to do with the direction we were cranking it? We'd been going counterclockwise, I believe, which meant the wooden part of the paddles that skirt the edge of the container were "dragging" along the outside, rather than "pushing" the liquid around. Might this be the problem, or shouldn't this make any difference? I haven't found any information telling me which way we're supposed to turn it, and it's been long enough that I have no clear recollection of past experiences. Could cranking speed be a problem (too slow OR too fast)?

Any ideas or help here? I'd thought of the bicycle idea myself, I think that may be the destiny of my old ten-speed... if I can get the rest of these kinks worked out! Thanks in advance,

seedlingproject (author)  mlaurenc6 years ago
I had this happen when I didn't use enough rock salt in the ice outside the tub. The ice should be very watery so it surrounds the ice cream thoroughly. I have never had any problems with cranking too hard or too fast. I have cranked it the wrong way, and the way I tell which way to crank is to turn it both ways and feel which way seems to be doing more--like you can feel the components inside the tub moving. Quite simply, it should be harder to crank so that you know the flaps are scraping the ice cream off the sides of the tub. I hope this helps! I have definitely messed up many times myself! Never give up! You learn something every time.
I used to do this when I was a kid. Churning sucks, but it is tasty. One of these days I need to make freezer bag ice cream.
I saw a very nifty variant on this at a steam show once. A fellow had attached a belt pulley to the churn, and had a small John Deere hit and miss engine driving it. Good ice cream, made all the better by its manufacture:)
wonder if it can be done with an exercise bike?
damasta wocket7 years ago
good idea, it should be possible
hidersine48 years ago
Great you're spreading the word about the incomparable taste of hand-cranked ice cream. The only thing I would encourage readers to do is to heat the ice cream in a big kettle at least until there is a pretty good scum on top, always stirring. Use a heavy kettle. It's a good safety precaution in view of some of the diseases raw eggs can bring, and usually doesn't curdle any of the ingredients. The writer who suggested cooling in a fridge has it right - it cuts down on hand-crank time. Also, experiment with some of the recipes at:
seedlingproject (author)  hidersine48 years ago
Wow, what a great resource (the recipes!!). I would refrigerate the mix if I ever had the time, but I'm usually sitrring the stuff up with a crowd of slathering ice cream fiends at my back... (also known as the Instructables interns). As for the disease: I use the best eggs I can find (free range, happy chickens, etc) and I haven't ever been sick (knock on wood). A lot of people worry about salmonella and whatnot, which I think comes from the outside of the shell (from the poopy part)... If you are really worried about raw eggs you could try washing the outside of the egg with hot soapy water (which they also do in the egg packing process), and cracking with clean hands. Also it's super important to make sure the inside of your churn and your bowls and whisks are very clean! I have to say I disagree with the need to heat or pasteurize the eggs. I drink raw milk and eat raw milk cheese, too. It also helps that I'm not really afraid of diarrhea.
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