Ironically, the consistent cold of winter ushers in ice cream season on the homestead. Colder temperatures allow us to keep ice cream without refrigeration.
Like so many of our fellow Americans, we love ice cream! It has become a rare treat for us, not only because it’s expensive, but also because of the difficulty of keeping it cold. On the rare occasions that we buy ice cream, it’s an extreme indulgence. We either find someone to help us eat a whole carton at one sitting, or we eat huge servings, then decadently stir melted leftovers into our coffee or cocoa the next morning.
In winter we buy ice cream on a trip to town and make it last for days, eating it at a responsible pace, storing the unused portion outside in the freezing cold. However, ice cream is not the first dessert we crave at those times, precisely because the weather’s so chilly.
Before moving to the homestead, we actually avoided ice cream during the winter. Except for a few irresistible seasonal flavors that can’t be found at other times, (eggnog or pumpkin pie spice!) we sought out warm desserts. Lack of refrigeration on the homestead turned this discipline completely on its head.
I grew up on both commercial and homemade ice cream. When we lived on the Sheldon Jackson College campus in Sitka, my father found and restored a large-capacity hand-cranked ice cream churn. On summer evenings we’d make a huge batch of ice cream in the driveway. Neighbors out strolling would gather, and we’d have an impromptu ice cream social.
When Michelle and I married, we got a hand crank ice cream churn of our own. We wore it out! When we bought the homestead, a trove of household goods came with it. We were delighted to discover an ice cream churn even better than our old one! Sadly, because it’s difficult to transport ice out to the homestead, we haven’t used it yet. A spontaneous batch of ice cream is impossible here—any such decision requires logistical planning.
Instead, we make our ice cream in the winter. When we get the right kind of snow, as we did on Wednesday, it’s time to make “Eskimo” ice cream.
Growing up, authentic Eskimo-style ice cream never appealed to me, because it’s made with seal oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil. The former is hard for non-Natives to come by legally; the latter isn’t healthy. Neither sounds like something I’d want to find in my ice cream. Since we had the churn, we never made ice cream from snow.
Then I read Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolves. Kantner mentions making Eskimo ice cream without fat, and added the key detail to the dish’s success: whipping hard and fast. With that bit of information, we consulted our trusty copy of Cooking Alaskan and cobbled together a few recipes, including one from Ole Wik, a neighbor and friend of Kantner’s family, to come up with one of our own that uses as few ingredients as possible. Here’s the result:
Snow Ice Cream à la Zeiger Homestead
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Mix ingredients well in a metal bowl. Scoop clean snow into mixture while whipping briskly with a wire whisk. Add snow, whisking constantly, until mixture reaches consistency of home-churned ice cream (and mashed potatoes!). Serve immediately. Serves 6 more or less, depending on helping size.
We set the metal bowl in the snow to freeze while we work. This helps keep the finished product cold after bringing it inside. We work as a team, one person shoveling in snow with a big serving spoon while the other whisks vigorously. The whisker is in charge, calling a halt to the snow when necessary. It doesn’t take much practice to get really good at this!
We tried using sweetened condensed milk once. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as good. The flavor and texture are wrong.
The snow’s consistency is vital to success. Wait for dry powder, the kind you’d want for skiing. You can make it with wet snow (we’ve been desperate enough to try this a few times) but it’s not nearly as good. Fresh powder snow, mixed with the other ingredients, creates perfect ice cream, identical to fresh-churned in a fraction of the time, with far less elbow grease and no eggs, ice or rock salt!
Clean snow is also key. We often lose our chance to make ice cream because needles from the surrounding trees have sprinkled on the snow. If we know the wind will come up before evening, we’ll fill a cooler with snow to preserve it until needed. If the snow is deep enough, we sweep aside the top layer of snow to get down to cleaner powder beneath.
One of the keys to sustainable living and eating locally is eating foods in their proper season. I guess for us, that includes ice cream.