I was about four years old. There was a beautifully decorated birthday cake sitting on the counter at my Aunt’s home. I was supposed to be down for a nap, with my cousins, to rest up before the party. I was so excited in anticipation of the upcoming party I didn’t fall asleep at all. I slid quietly off the bed and traipsed down the long hallway and into the kitchen. There was the cake.
I just could not resist. With one little, tiny, swipe of my pinkie finger, I was tasting icing. It was wonderful! OK, well, maybe just another little one and hopefully no one will notice. I am sure you have guessed by now my 4 year old will power was no match for that yummy cake! Boy did I get into trouble! Fortunately my Aunt was able to repair the damage and the cake was as beautiful as before.
My Aunt was a great dessert and candy maker too. I lived for her vanilla caramels at the holidays. The recipe was basically in pounds! A pound of butter, a pound of brown sugar… and more, but I am sworn to secrecy on revealing the entire recipe. I made my first batch when I was pregnant with my oldest son. I developed a very elaborate system to hopefully slow myself down and not eat the entire batch in a short time. I laboriously cut and double wrapped every single caramel with waxed paper. Next I put the pieces into not one but two Ziploc bags and placed in a cupboard. My rule was I could only eat one piece at a time and had to take them out individually and reseal both bags each time I ate one! I remember tipping the scales with a weight gain of 40 pounds and those caramels helped me get there, I’m sure!
My Aunt’s particular ice cream recipe, for the hand cranked treat that was always a special part of every family birthday celebration on my dad’s side of the family, was a well guarded one. Even as an adult I do not believe I ever obtained that one. I remember the caramel taste profile. I believe it had some canned milk added that made it extra creamy and just a tad smoother than my Mom’s mix. I do remember how happy we was when it was this Aunt’s turn to provide the mix for freezing. Here is the closest recipe I have found:
|HOMEMADE ICE CREAM|
1 qt. milk
1 c. sugar
2 c. Milnot
2 pts. half & half
2 c. sugar
4 tbsp. vanilla
Beat eggs and sugar 3-4 minutes. Add milk. Cook until hot. Cool. Add Milnot, half & half, 2 cups sugar and vanilla. Put in gallon of ice cream freezer. Freeze.
To offset the expense of ingredients needed to produce ice cream for the whole tribe, each family in attendance contributed additional batches of “mix” for the freezers or toppings.
At a different birthday party, my Mom elected to bring peanuts for our family’s part. Times were tight and the purchase of expensive canned peanuts was a splurge in the grocery budget. It was decided that the entire can could not be taken to the party, so a portion was doled out into a suitable serving dish, sitting on the counter next to the kitchen window.
I observed the preparation of these precious treats. I waited until the supply was unattended and decided to get a taste of the rare snack. When I reached up to get a peanut, I noticed that insects had discovered our treat for the party as well. A tiny stream of red ants was going to and from the bowl and out a hole in the kitchen window screen. I ran to report the ant’s invasion to my mother. She was horrified. Already in a bit of trouble with Dad over this extra expense, and knowing that there were no funds to replace these Peanuts with more from the grocery, she made a decision. Very carefully she sifted through all of the peanuts in the bowl, removing every last ant. I was sworn to secrecy and promised to not reveal to any family members, especially my Dad, of this little deception.
When the ice cream was served and family members worked their way through the various jars of chocolate and caramel syrups, the sprinkles and of course those peanuts. I stood by keenly watching in anticipation of a scream of discovery that additional ingredients were discovered in that bowl of nuts. When this did not happen, I finally blurted out “Gee I am so glad that none of those ants got in the ice cream toppings.” This let the proverbial cat out of the bag. My red faced mother grimaced as she explained to everyone what had transpired prior to their arrival at the party. She had a very stern look for me too. I was definitely in trouble. I knew that when we returned home, punishment awaited me, from both my parents.
The best part of every family birthday party was cranking the ice cream, either in a back yard or during the winter month birthdays, in the basement of the host family’s home. We youngsters could start cranking when the chilled ice cream mixture was first put into the cans and paddles set for churning. As the cream mixtures turned to more solid form, the men in the family all took turns, putting their muscle to the task required to complete the process. Think about that extra high pitch that my modern CuisineArt ™ electric Ice Cream maker makes as it nears the end of a cycle. That sound would be similar to the emanations from the men as they did those last few cranks!
Removing the paddles to let the ice cream “cure” was the best part. Any kids who happened to be hanging around in the kitchen were handed spoons and lined up for a turn to clean off the ice cream that clung to those wooden paddles when removed from the can. It was more the consistency of soft serve frozen custard, not hard like the store bought ice cream. We’d line up with small bowls and spoons drooling in anticipation for a few rapidly melting dollops. Probably the only time ever I remember getting to have dessert first. I chuckle at this memory when I see the Pacific Dessert bumper stickers on cars. They read “Life is Uncertain… Eat Dessert first”.
Eventually my grand dad purchased an electric ice cream freezer. He had to endure a lot of kidding from his sons and other men in family, but he said it was too hard on his back to bend and crank! This and many other changes occurred as I grew up. I eventually married and had ice cream freezers to crank and birthday cakes to ice for my own children’s birthdays.
Grandparents age and die. Sadly, sometimes little cousins do also, way before they should. My Aunt had to endure the ache created by her youngest child, leaving this earth before she was even in Kindergarten. The cake I mangled that afternoon may have been one of the last my Aunt had made before her young daughter died.
I imagine that the icing, on any cake, was never thick enough for my Aunt ,ever again.by