Sweet things in life

Published 8:35 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I looked at it knowing something was wrong.

It had a thick consistency of sludge, almost too hard to stir. The color was slightly off. I took a small taste and it was wonderful; different, but wonderful. That shouldn’t have been a surprise because it had all most all my favorite ingredients: Sugar, eggs, whole milk and Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk.

Eagle Brand was one of the two basic foods always available in my room at college. Anytime day or night you could find an open can of Eagle Brand and a 3-pound container of peanut butter. Utensils were not necessary since it was much easier to lick your finger clean than wash a spoon.

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I rarely drink whole milk anymore, or “sweet milk” as most my age remember it being called. Cold skim milk suits me just fine, but just an occasional taste of the fat laden whole milk brings back memories of my youth.

As for the eggs; well, along with fried chicken wings, they are one of foods I don’t think I could ever do without. I like them scrambled, fried, boiled and poached. They are good in omelets, casseroles, sandwiches and biscuits.

I wasn’t a lover of candy growing up, but there were two things that absolutely had to have sugar in them. Iced tea and ice cream.

I have been making ice cream since I was a small kid. For the last 40 years or so I have been making the same recipe. There must be half a dozen copies of the recipe in drawers, folders and cookbooks at my house and at Compass Lake. Finally, a copy on green paper attached to the refrigerator at the lake became a more permanent edition and we didn’t have to search anymore.

That is, until this past weekend. Henry, Laura and their parents were coming over to swim at our pool. At the last moment, ML and I decided to make some ice cream. There was no recipe to be found. However, we had made it at the lake several times lately so surely I could remember all the ingredients.

As the ice cream maker went into overtime trying to make this strange mixture look like the real thing, I began to retrace my steps. The thickness was an easy clue to my first mistake. I put three times as much sugar as the recipe called for. There were also twice as many eggs.

I didn’t have my glasses on when I reached for the flavoring, putting an extra strong dose as I am inclined to do. When I realized it was butternut flavoring, I tried to cancel it out by putting twice as much vanilla in the mixture.

The urn we hadn’t used for a long time at home was a quart smaller, which only meant there were more of all the other ingredients per serving.

First one, then two bags of ice were used as I began to wonder if it would ever harden. Finally the motor began to strain and then stopped. I didn’t even sample the finished product, knowing that I was stuck with the outcome no matter what it tasted like.

After supper, I dipped out a serving in everyone’s bowl. I had to admit it looked good.

“This is really good,” was followed by “This is better than usual.”

Finally, the comment any cook wants to hear: “This is the best ice cream ever!”

Sure enough, it was really good. The vanilla taste was there, but the hint of butternut was right on the tip of your tongue. It was thick and rich and well, sweet. Second helpings went around as I thought I would never be able to duplicate this ice cream again.

There have been other gaffes I have made along the way when making this dessert. I once put in M&Ms in the urn too early, only to have dozens of little frozen balls just waiting to break a tooth.

I used an urn with a small pinhole once that resulted in the greatest concentration of salt in anything I have ever put in my mouth.

“It’s my turn. It’s my turn,” my brother and I used to yell at my Daddy as we made ice cream on the patio. We wanted to turn the hand crank in the old wooden bucket until we finally got either tired or bored and went off to play. He was always left to finish it off.

When all my cousins were at the lake at the same time, the Supreme Ice Cream delivery man used to stop twice a week leaving 5-gallon tubs in the freezer on the back porch. My favorite, as always, was vanilla, sometimes topped by chocolate or caramel syrup.

Ernest liked chocolate ice cream, continuing our life-long trend of being different in almost everything we do. The final flavor was Neapolitan, that strange sort of mixture of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. It seemed to me that was for those that just couldn’t make up their mind.

Eating ice cream is part of the soul of my family. It is about showing your grandchildren how to do the ice and salt just as my grandparents showed me. It is about savoring the taste as well as the stories on the dock or the porch. It is something we have done across many generations, sometimes at the same time.

Perhaps best of all it is about screwing up the ingredients and still having “the best ice cream ever.”

When you are sharing it with those you love, it is truly one of the sweet things in life.