Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Ice cream, yard sales, and 70's nostalgia

I grew up in a Washington, D.C., suburb that had incredible ice cream. There was a famous frozen custard stand at Jefferson Village, a Gifford's at Bailey's Crossroads, and one of the first Baskin Robbins stores (with flavors like creme de menthe) just down the road. My family spent summers on Cape Cod (with the incomparable Kreme 'n' Kone in Dennisport) and in Boston, which boasted Brigham's (with the Fribble ultra thick frappe), Bailey's (an old-fashioned ice cream parlor just off the Boston Common) and Howard Johnson's, which in the 1960s had great maple walnut, butter pecan and coffee ice creams.

In the mid-1970s, while I was in college, electric ice cream machines came into vogue. My gourmet friend and New Haven housemate Mike Maffeo aspired to having one, and it was on our list of things look for at yard sales. Sure enough, we found a Waring Ice Cream Parlor, new in box, for $5. "My daughter-in-law gave it to me to keep me fat!" the seller told us. "Take it away!" We made off with it and spent the summer churning strawberry ice cream (using fresh berries, cut and sugared to make a nice syrup) and banana frozen yogurt.

Twenty five years later, I'm living in Seattle, a city apparently oblivious to ice cream. One gourmet option, Fran's at University Village, makes ice cream in mind-boggling flavors, but it's just too rich. The soft ice cream found at cheap stands is, for the most part, sickeningly sweet and glossily artificial. Nowadays Baskin Robbins is hardly a sure thing; quality varies by store-by-store because it's a franchise. The only supermarket ice cream that's at all distinguished is from Dallas' Out of a Flower, which offers flavors like Fresh Nutmag, Texas Goat Cheese, Marc de Bourgogne, and (for the more conservative) Dark Chocolate and Rum. But the only place to buy it is Larry's Market. [ NOTE: As of March 2003, Out of a Flower's web site appears to be offline. Their phone is (800) 743-5696.]

Last weekend I spotted the Waring Ice Cream Parlor in the pantry, still in its original box, having followed me through at least seven moves. [NOTE: Here are the much-requested operating instructions for the Waring Ice Cream Parlor.] Tonight I noticed a pint of heavy cream in the fridge, left over from my husband's recent truffle project. Obviously I was meant to make ice cream. Soon the Ice Cream Parlor was grinding loudly away just the way I'd remembered, ice cubes and salt gently sloshing outside the rotating metal cream container. Forty minutes later I was putting two containers of spectacular tasting vanilla into our freezer. (I have to admit, the ice-cream-making process was a lot easier now that most refrigerators have automatic ice makers; years ago in New Haven I can remember running short of ice and dashing to a neighbor's to scrounge some.)

Since we rarely indulge in ice cream, or keep heavy cream around the house, I suspect the Waring Ice Cream Parlor will last me for the rest of my days. Wish you had one of these culinary workhorses? Act now: I spotted three of them selling on eBay, for $15 each.