Ice Cream Topped with Sweet Memories

By Ann Thelen

Nothing quite says summer like dipping a spoon into an ice cream sundae or reaching for a cone topped with a double scoop of deliciousness. Celebrating July as National Ice Cream Month brings back many special memories.

Ice cream stirs up treasured family memories. Photo credit: Ann Thelen

Ice cream stirs up treasured family memories. Photo credit: Ann Thelen

Ice cream reminds me of being a kid and living in the country on our acreage. My dad loved making homemade ice cream in our old-fashioned, hand-churn ice cream maker. It was a special summertime treat when we got to pull the ice cream maker out of the basement and set it on the picnic table. Seeing the milk mixture transform into my favorite dessert was like magic for my young eyes.

Growing up in rural Fort Dodge, my first jobs were babysitting, bean walking and detasseling corn. When I was 16, a new business opened in town – Oscar’s Creamery – a place where homemade ice cream was made on-site, behind glass windows for all to see. I knew right away that’s where I wanted my first “real” job to be! I applied and was hired. Donning my crisp white shirt and retro paper ice cream parlor hat, I loved serving up scoops of toasted almond fudge, rhubarb crisp sundaes and creamy malts.

Maybe it was hearing the slow churn of milk turning into a delicacy. Or the smile on children’s faces when I handed them a double-dip sugar cone topped with perfectly shaped frozen spheres. Perhaps it was eagerly standing by my dad’s side for a chance to steal a spoonful from the wooden and metal beaters – ice cream was a sweet spot of summer.

Homemade ice cream also reminds me of two very special women – my mom, Geri Foster, and my step-grandma, Brigitte Meta Foster. Brigitte had a delicious recipe for ice cream, and our family loved making it. In mom’s old, handwritten cookbook, a worn page bears the title, “Brigitte’s Ice Cream” with the words VERY GOOD in capital letters and circled. Those two simple words were only reserved for mom’s favorite recipes, and I knew they met her high standards for flavor.  

My dad’s mom died before he was a teenager, and Brigitte was the only grandma I ever knew on his side. She was an incredible woman, with a history as rich and fascinating as her delicious ice cream. Brigitte was born in West Germany, and when she graduated from high school, World War II was underway. She went to Dresden, Germany to attend a language school and completed just two courses before the city was bombed. She then worked as a foreign correspondent for the French until the U.S. invasion of France. In 1945, Brigitte worked as a telephone operator secretary in Hagen for the Chamber of Commerce until the city was bombed and her family lost their home and possessions. She escaped to a countryside castle where her sister was already working as a secretary.

After the war, Brigitte worked in Hagen, Westfalen and Frankfurt, West Germany as an interpreter for the British Scotland Yard. She corresponded with three pen pals to keep up her expertise with the English and French languages. My grandpa – Seymour Foster – was one of those pen pals. He wanted to meet her in person and traveled to Hagen by ship. The married in 1950 in Hagen, West Germany, and moved to Fort Dodge, later retiring to Arkansas.

Although Brigitte and my mom have both passed away, the creamy, custard homemade ice cream they both loved to make is still a part of our summertime celebrations. My dad’s birthday is July 5, so we made a batch again this year to celebrate. When he has a spoonful, I can see by the smile on his face that, he too, is transported back in time with special ice cream memories!

Old-Fashioned Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Yield: 1 quart

Old-Fashioned Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and photo courtesy of Ann Thelen.

Old-Fashioned Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and photo courtesy of Ann Thelen.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 small box of Jell-O cook & serve vanilla pudding

  • 2 cups half & half

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  • Optional, vanilla bean, 2-inch pod

Add egg yolks and sugar to a medium saucepan and whisk together until well combined. In another saucepan, combine vanilla pudding, half & half and milk. Heat and stir mixture until it simmers (about 195 degrees F). Do not boil.

Gradually add liquid mixture to egg and sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Return to heat until it reaches 165 degrees F. As soon as it reaches this temperature, remove from heat. Place the custard mixture in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator (or freezer) until it reaches at least 65 degrees F. The colder the mixture is, the firmer the ice cream will be. If placing in the freezer to cool, remove before the mixture sets up.

Once cooled, place mixture in ice cream maker and add vanilla. If also using vanilla beans, scrape the seeds from the pod and add to the liquid. Prepare according to the ice cream maker manufacturer’s directions. This ice cream works well in electric and old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream makers. When mixing is complete, the ice cream will be similar to soft serve. For harder ice cream, place the ice cream in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.