Blowin’ In: Churning Memories
By Susan Mangan
One day in early summer, I sat enjoying the soft wind as it blew beneath the eaves of my front porch. As carefree as a child, I savored an ice cream pop the color of pale lavender. For a moment, the breeze paused in her course and a ruby-throated hummingbird hovered over an unruly mass of catmint bordering my footpath.
I sat statue-like while a still-life unfolded before my eyes. Cloaked in emerald silk, the hummingbird drank deeply of the lilac nectar. The flower was the exact hue of my then melting ice cream confection. The breeze resumed, as did my breath. Hummingbird and human, we were both satisfied with the simple delights of summer.
Summer affords each of us some opportunity for relaxation. I am compelled to savor the joys I have cherished since childhood, like the milky richness of an ice cream cone.
As children, my neighborhood cronies and I would shout, ”You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Inevitably, the Good Humor van would travel down the street, or a kind mother would come swinging out with the bang of a screen door bearing bouquets of twin popsicles.
We would always vie for the best flavors: grape or cherry and leave the orange ices for later. Children are as greedy as the drunken hummingbird in midsummer.
As a girl, I spent many idyllic summers in the blistering heat of southern Missouri. My grandmother did not have air conditioning in her antique home. Fans and tall glasses of iced sweet tea provided welcome relief from any discomforts.
The heat didn’t prevent my cousin and me from running through the open fields like brown bear cubs at play. If we were good and didn’t set the water troughs overflowing or leave any gates open, our parents and older siblings treated us to Dairy Queen.
To this day, the smell of a DQ Brazier shop reminds me of my childhood. My grandmother Mim, however, made us the best treat of all – homemade peach ice cream.
Before the sun reached its sultry summit of heat, the mothers and children would travel to local orchards, blueberry and peach, to pick fresh fruit. Ripe and blushing, plump peaches weighed down the trees’ agile branches. The air smelled of nectar and hummed with fat bumblebees. Our quest was the same: a perfectly golden peach bursting with sweet juice.
Once home, my grandmother Mim would bring the old-fashioned ice cream churn up from the cellar. My mother and aunt would load the wooden barrel with coarse cut salt and ice. Dairy fresh cream and soft peaches slick with caramelized sugar would follow into the stainless vat.
In the shade of towering elm trees, Mim and her daughters would take turns cranking the ice cream maker, until the luscious concoction turned to smooth custard. After an early dinner of fried chicken and warm garden tomatoes, we would all feast on homemade peach cobbler and peach ice cream. Such is the stuff of dreams.
Ice cream is not just a fond dessert reminiscent of American childhood summers. My Irish mother-in-law loves to recall the vanilla cones she would receive as a treat after mass in town at Chamber’s shop, “with or without” a chocolate Cadbury Flake. Irish whipped ice cream is quite soft and not as cold or sweet as American ice cream, but is even richer to taste. Only happy cows fortunate enough to graze in meadows of clover and wildflowers could produce cream as pure as Irish cream.
Laura Calder, a Canadian cookbook author and cooking show personality, shares a delightful ice cream memory from her childhood. In the summer, led by her father, Laura and her family would pick wild strawberries in the woods surrounding her home.
When the baskets began to brim with tiny, crimson gems, her father would freeze the choicest fruits. On Christmas Eve, her father would churn wild strawberry ice cream for their dessert. Personally, I could not imagine a more perfect confection to celebrate the simple joys of comfort and home during the holidays.
Years before my daughter studied abroad in London, my youngest son and I traveled to this fascinating city for the World’s Irish Dancing Championship. How wonderful it was to have had the opportunity to visit Charles Dickens’ home in Bloomsbury with two of my three children!
What captured our interest the most was the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern throughout the city. The Shard, an ultra-modern glass building, rises over the lumbering silhouette of the ancient Tower of London. Despite modern conveniences and stunning architecture, we mostly enjoyed our journey into the past.
As my son and I carefully climbed the narrow stone passageways of the Tower, it was easy to forget that we were surrounded by thousands of tourists on a brilliant spring day. The ghosts of the Tower and its bloody history ensnared our thoughts.
Near Tower Green, the site where numerous prisoners were put to death at the scaffold, a memorial was erected urging the “Gentle visitor, pause awhile. Where you stand death cut away the light of many days . . .” Fortunately for us, my son and I could leave the tragedy of history behind when we exited the Tower.
Outside the gates, we were able to satiate our hunger and ease our imaginings with nothing other than a refreshing ice cream cone. Ironically, there stood a Mr. Whippy ice cream truck proffering treats to 21st century tourists. Gladly, I handed over five pounds for two cones, quite thankful that it was not to be my last meal.
In the spirit of the great bards of England, if I could compose an ode or sonnet evoking my appreciation for a time-worn treat, it would most certainly be dedicated to the most inspiring of all confections, the ice cream cone.
*Sources Consulted: Calder, Laura. Dinner Chez Moi: The Fine Art of Feeding Friends. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.
*Susan holds an MA in English from John Carroll University and an MAED from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].