Introduction: 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.

Step 1: 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

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

Obviously this is everyone's favorite step.

Step 5: 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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