Churning Traditions

Churning Traditions

Photography by Jeff Amberg

Some foods are fads, some are trendy, yet others become celebrated traditions –– none better than ice cream. Without question, ice cream is as beloved a treat today as it was in the 1600s when it became readily available to the general public and not just to royalty or those in power. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to serve ice cream to their guests, beginning a tradition of bringing joy to all who partake in this delicious concoction. 

Back then, it was only the very fortunate who had ice houses, which could keep ice blocks frozen for long periods of time for preserving food –– and ultimately providing ice for making ice cream. Ice houses became an essential part of American culture, yet for a more affordable option, people sought use of the icebox for keeping food cool. Many South Carolina families had iceboxes after the ice trade developed early in the 19th century. Weekly ice deliveries continued in the South until the 1940s when electric refrigerators started replacing the icebox. The wooden iceboxes had hollow walls insulated with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials. A large block of ice was placed at the top of the wooden box, designed to keep perishable food fresh. 

One difficulty was that people couldn’t open the door to their icebox very often during the day –– or the ice would not last the entire week. The ice was replenished each week, or in some cases twice weekly, by buying a new ice block from an iceman, usually on Mondays. Thus, Sundays became the celebrated day when the dwindling ice block was removed from the icebox and crushed into chunks used for churning ice cream.  

It’s not hard to imagine the build up of excitement all week long as the children waited for Sunday when, after church, the family would take what remained of the week’s worth of ice and make a small batch of ice cream with it. When the icebox was nearly cleared of all food for the midday Sunday dinner, the children were scooted out to the porch to wait for the churning process to start. The wooden ice cream tub had to be prepared, and the ice block needed to be broken into bits –– but there was precious little time to waste so the ice wouldn’t melt!

Vanilla was probably the most selected flavor because of the ease in gathering the needed ingredients. No doubt, there was competition between the children regarding who cranked the handle first … since it becomes increasingly  difficult to turn the crank as the ice cream thickens. As the churning took place on the porch under the massive oak trees, waiting was now down to the final minutes for the weekly delicacy. 

The sterling silver bowls that turned cold as ice once the decadent cream dessert was spooned in would make even the eldest member of the family giddy. As ice cream spilled down the fingers of the little ones who couldn’t take it in fast enough, the joy and delight was apparent. It’s these memories, among countless others, that have kept ice cream a staple at the dessert table. Whether it’s served from a sterling silver bowl or a colorful plastic cup, there is no greater joy than that first dip of the spoon into the sweet, creamy treat.

This summer, take an afternoon off, grab the family and make some ice cream. It’s a memory that won’t be soon forgotten, by young or old. 


Maple Walnut Ice Cream

2 cups pure maple syrup

2 cups whole milk

4 cups heavy cream

4 eggs

1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix syrup in a heavy sauce pan over moderately high heat until reduced by 1/4 (5 to 10 minutes). Stir in cream and milk and bring to a boil. Mix eggs in a large bowl and slowly add the hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Transfer egg mixture to sauce pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is slightly thickened or temperature reaches 170 F. Do not boil. Chill mixture at least 3 hours before churning. Add walnuts the last 5 to 10 minutes of churning. (Egg substitutes can be used in place of real eggs.) Makes 4 quarts.


Quick and Easy Vanilla Ice Cream 

3 cups whole milk

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups half and half

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups whipping cream

Scald milk until bubbles form around edge. Remove from heat. Add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved. Stir in half and half, vanilla and whipping cream. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before churning. Makes 4 quarts.


Vanilla Variations:

Strawberry: Add 4 cups pureed strawberries to the mixture.

Peach: Add 4 cups pureed peaches to the mixture.

Chocolate Peppermint Ice Cream: Add 1 1/2 cups of peppermint candy and 1 1/2 cups of chocolate syrup to the mixture.

Cookie Deluxe: Crumble 20 crumbled chocolate sandwich cookies (or any cookie of your choice) and add mixture during the last 5 to 10 minutes of churning.

Almond Toffee: Add 1 cup of almond toffee during the last 5 to 10 minutes of churning.

Candy Supreme: Add 1 cup of your favorite chocolate candy during the last 5 to 10 minutes of churning. 

Crunchy Granola:  Add 1 cup of your favorite granola during the last 5 to 10 minutes of churning.  


Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream

6 eggs, beaten

2 vanilla beans (whole beans)

3 cups sugar

2 quarts heavy cream

1 quart whole milk

Over low heat or in a double boiler in a large stock pan, combine the sugar, heavy cream and milk. Scrape the vanilla beans by making a slice vertically down the bean and scraping along the inside. Add the vanilla beans and seeds to the cream mixture. Do not allow cream mixture to boil. While mixture is cooking in a separate bowl, beat eggs with a wire whisk. When the cream mixture has begun to simmer carefully, remove one full cup of the warmed mixture. Gradually add this warmed mixture to the eggs, beating constantly. When the eggs have fully been incorporated with the warmed cream mixture, slowly add the contents to the pan, stirring constantly.  Allow the mixture to cook until it has become thickened and can coat the back of a wooden spoon (will reach 170 F). Allow the mixture to chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight before churning. Makes 4 quarts.

*You can substitute 1 vanilla bean with 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract.

**Egg substitutes can be used in place of real eggs.


Chocolate Ice Cream    

2 2/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups whole milk

4 eggs, beaten

6 squares semisweet chocolate (1-ounce each, melted)

2 cups half and half

2 cups whipping cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to simmer, stirring constantly. Gradually stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into the beaten eggs. Add to remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over low heat until slightly thickened (about 2 minutes). Stir in melted chocolate. Beat with a whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in half and half, whipping cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours before churning. Makes 4 quarts.


Fluffy Marshmallow Ice Cream

4 tablespoons vanilla

4 cups whole milk

80 large marshmallows

2 pints whipping cream

Place the marshmallows and milk in a heatproof bowl, until melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla and let cool. When mixture is thoroughly cooled and beginning to thicken, fold in whipped cream until thick but not stiff. Once the mixture is chilled, it’s ready to be churned. Makes 4 quarts.


Raspberry Sherbet

1 1/2 cups water

2 egg whites

2 cups sugar

6 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

2 pints raspberries

Put the fresh berries in a sauce pan with water and sugar and cook for 5 minutes. Press through a sieve and add the lemon juice. Cool. Beat until light then fold in the whipping cream until thick. Stir well. Chill mixture for 1 hour before churning. (Can substitute raspberries with peaches, strawberries and blueberries.) Makes 4 quarts.