My Fudgsicle, My Self
Thoughts on Unfrozen Identity
The people around me like food, like talking about food. Like planning and preparing food. I like it too, but I get full faster, full of everything about it. The food aspect of my social life was not working.
I knew the only solution was to embrace food and make stuff.
Three years ago I began exploring homemade ice cream as a way to join the food world and make a contribution. Now frozen confections are an integral part of my role in the micro community.
I produce a variety of products on a regular basis year round. People can count on it. Parents know they can use [fill in the blank]sicles as a reward for kids finishing dinner. Ice cream I churn out is part of the social fabric and part of the overall food conversation. The food aspect of my social life is working much better now.
As we approach Memorial Day Weekend and the beginning of another summer season of ramped up production, I have been reflecting on this new layer of me. There was a time, not too long ago, when I did not make ice cream.
Becoming the Ice Cream Guy
Most people think they’re not good at fitting in, but most other people are. Whenever the subject comes up, which is infrequent because it is not something people like to draw attention to, the conversation tends to go like:
A, I really have trouble fitting in
B, No way, you are so confident, I‘m the one who can’t fit in at all
A. Get outta here, you must be just saying that to make me feel better because I totally see you fitting in everywhere
Fitting in is the opposite of Garrison Keillor’s old joke about the children of Lake Woebegone all being above average. When it comes to fitting in, most of us feel we’re below average. I do.
There is no way I should have trouble fitting in where I am currently living. If I am not beloved, I am at least be-liked. I’m a grandparent, surely the best family role imaginable. No one really expects all that much out of me. An old man’s main responsibility is to not be a pain in the ass. That takes real effort on my part but I’m getting better at it.
Having a Food Role helps.
Having a Frozen Confection Food Role helps even more.
Ice cream is special and it is always part of special events, such as Kid Birthdays. There have of course been over-the-top birthday requests, such as Monster Cookie Dough Ice Cream, Red Velvet Cake Ice Cream, and Hot Pepper Ice Cream. Some of these requests have involved baking and ice cream making, facilitating a collaboration with my wife.
When the weather is nice, ice cream becomes a thing-to-do in the evening after dinner. The freezer is a destination where there’s always something and there’s always hard decisions. Part of the fun is choosing.
The ice cream making place and the freezer and my weird little office where I’m living now on Orcas Island are right next to each other. Lots of times, coming to the freezer means coming to me.
A bunch of people eating ice cream at a Birthday Dinner is a bunch more dishes to do later, usually on top of all the main meal clean-up. Maybe that’s just part of a party. The big clean-up. But it doesn’t have to be part of every meal or every dinner.
You can put ice cream on a stick.
The way the Popsicle (tm) people tell the story, a kid named Frank Epperson living in Oakland, California, accidentally discovered frozen flavored water on a stick in 1905, began selling what his family called ‘popsicles’ to the public in 1923, and received a popsicle patent in 1924.
The way the Good Humor (tm) people tell the story, it all started with Eskimo Pies, (now known as, ‘Edy’s Pies’ as re-named by Dreyers in 2021) invented in 1920 by Christian Kent Nelson in Onawa, Iowa. When Harry Burt, running an ice cream parlor in Youngstown, Ohio, saw how to coat ice cream with chocolate, he began selling ‘ice cream suckers’ and received a patent in 1923 that covered the equipment and the process of making ice cream on a stick.
Conflict was inevitable and the frozen confection world was staked out in a 1925 out-of-court settlement. Popsicle got the frozen flavored water and sherbets. Good Humor got the ice creams and custards.
There have been ice cream molds as long as there has been ice cream, which, by the way, is not a settled question. What Epperson and Burt introduced was consistent mass production of molded frozen anything — in a perfect single portion size!
The key to great stuff on a stick was the individual package that wraps portion control, mobility, and a complete experience with no clean-up into one beautiful food unit.
When I insert the wooden stick into the mold, filled with churned base and add-ins, I am, in effect, plating a portion. This approach adds a step to the work flow; i.e., removing the frozen X-Sicle from the mold the next day and bagging it. But the extra work up front pays off in freedom from bowls and tables and clean-up later.
Ice Cream Economics
Economics has nothing to do it.
I do not make ice cream to save money. It’s personal. It helps me socially and makes me feel like I’m spreading a little joy, one fudgsicle at a time.
I have developed a simple process that suits me and goes well with the other things I do. I am not a fussy creator and I have zero interest in complicated procedures that are hard to do and don’t make all that much difference. It is almost certainly a function of my immaturity and I make no judgment about humans who are able to follow demanding scripts in the The New York Times Cookbook and turn out masterpieces.
I have trouble doing hard things like that even once. Being the Ice Cream Guy is a commitment that requires executing a process over and over, at least 4–5 times every week. I have my embarrassingly primitive technique down to a set of routines I enjoy because everything about it matters and none of it represents a lot of effort for little outcome.
My base is fresh local heavy cream, fresh local whole milk, organic sugar. and vanilla extract. That’s it, for everything. All variety comes from ingredients added into the base before churning, just before the end of churning — or sometimes individually into each mold.
The very basic nature of my approach makes an accurate econometric model easy to develop in a spreadsheet. I didn’t do it to feed my inner Neo-Liberal cost cutter. I did it because it was fun and I learned a few things.
For instance, I assumed the heavy cream I get from a local dairy would always be the biggest single raw material expense.
My Fudgsicle has two add-ins, malt and cacao powder.
My basic rule of cooking, and many aspects of life, is:
If it’s good, use more until it’s too much and needs to be dialed back.
How else do you know? Like I’m going to take someone else’s word for it?
I use twice the amount of cacao powder I have ever seen in any chocolate ice cream recipe. That is why the Chocolate beats out the Cream, by less than a penny, in my Fudgsicle raw material cost analysis. I’m happy it won.
I express myself not just in the Ice Cream Guy role but in the way I make things.
My ridiculous life long habit of overdoing almost everything ends up creating such a strong eating experience in this application that people tend to stop what they were doing and focus on the Fudgsicle. It grabs attention and holds it.
The self-evident fact that my Fudgsicles are me and they are popular has to boost the old self-esteem, but I really try hard to prevent this from happening. It’s a toxic fix I definitely don’t need now, if I ever did.
What I am interested in is self-acceptance and I know that it doesn’t come from sitting around thinking about myself, but from doing things that flow naturally from me and are positive for others.
My ice cream making style does flow naturally from me and my Whynter ICM-201SB Upright Ice-Cream Maker with Built-In Compressor does the rest.
The essence of ice cream making is churning air into the base while it gets colder. I make the base, determine the churning time, and deal with the add-ins. Most of the expertise in modern ice cream making resides in these three sub-areas.
I have a true memory that goes back to the summer of 1952, when I was three and a half, of my father, skinny and bare to the waist, in the front yard of our four-generation house at 50 Monroe Avenue in Pittsford, New York, working hard as the main churner in a banana ice cream making project. I can picture the custard being transferred from the big bucket into old tin ice cube trays. I remember tasting some of the banana ice cream.
No one has to work hard any more getting air into the base, immersed in rock salt low temperatures as it freezes.
And, in my opinion, no one has to go through the ordeal of heating and melting chocolate to make a Fudgsicle. It adds complications and tricky procedures that can easily go wrong. Heat and stoves and that whole universe have no business in my ice cream works.
Sustaining the process depends on me enjoying it. Some folks find their enjoyment in carefully using heat and eggs and things that require a real touch, a touch I do not have and will probably not develop in my 70s. So instead, I keep it simple and still make great frozen confections by ramping up what I consider to be the important parts, like the cacao.
All you need to do is stir and be brave. Who knew that malt would add such a distinctive body to cream and sugar and too much chocolate. I had a hunch. So I bought 20 pounds from an online restaurant supply place.
Buying malt in bulk is aesthetically pleasing to me. I love seeing the bags of it stacked up in the ice cream room. I wouldn’t enjoy myself as much if I bought little canisters in the super market for three times as much money.
It’s not the money. It’s doing it in a way that feels right to me.
My Nilla Wafer Maltsicle
My head almost exploded when I thought of this juxtaposition.
Conceptually, it takes malted self-expression to the max. I think it is my masterpiece.
Nilla Wafers are a pleasing childhood memory to tweak — and their crunch stands up to custardy immersion.
But why I loved this frozen confection idea is not just the subtle contrast, but the turnabout. Vanilla is always the base for something else to be featured. Here the unusual flavor of malt is the base, with pure vanilla bits featured.
So why didn’t my head explode when I actually ate the first Nilla Wafer MaltSicle off my own assembly line?
I liked it. I liked it a lot. I think my expectations may have been too high. I thought I was Epperson, Burt and Christian Kent Nelson all on one stick. This may be an instance of a Food Idea that is so good, any implementation will be disappointing, kind of like making a movie of Dune.
My Vanilla-Berry Swirlsicle
I like the Vanilla-Berry pairing better than any other food combination I can think of, although grill cheese and bacon comes very close. The two completely different combos are structurally similar as a team — a soft but always present base colliding with ribbons of high intensity.
My frozen favorite gets the nod because, once again, it’s personal. I don’t just make the ice cream. I make the vanilla and I harvest and process the fruit, and I put it all together my way.
Let’s start with the world’s most popular flavor, an exquisite presence that makes everything else around it better. Vanilla is also expensive. Expensive enough that I was tempted to not use it as much as I wanted, an unpleasant feeling. I should let it flow, make great stuff and don’t worry about it.
Unless there’s another way, which there is. The DIY Vanilla extract way.
I’ve been at it for a few years and it is in many ways The Perfect Project for me.
- It’s low maintenance. Cut open the beans and put them in a tall thin 8 oz bottle almost filled with vodka. Shake them gently every few months. Think extraction. You too can be a Master Vanilla Maker.
- It saves enough money that you are actively glad to not be a sucker paying those high retail prices.
- It yields Gifts for all occasions that are always appreciated and can be easily personalized by adding a label to the vanilla gift bottle. Safe shipping solutions are not difficult.
- Vanilla smells nice in the easiest way so people who are ill, dying, or simply have eating problems can enjoy it.
- Some of my DIY Vanilla is as good as the best commercially available Vanilla. Most of it is significantly better. It is always intoxicating to open a new 8 ounce bottle and gently sniff the first essence of vanilla extract.
- It can be an international project. Most beans are from Madagascar and most of “Tom’s Plain Vanilla” is too. However, I am continually testing beans from other parts of the world, such as Tahiti, Uganda and India.
I have researched and written about Vanilla, wondering why the royal spice is also considered kind of, meh, when it is clearly anything but. I embrace the strangeness and have named my Vanilla product, “Tom’s Plain Vanilla.”
“Tom’s Plain Vanilla” was an unintended consequence of making ice cream. I learned first-hand about the irritating cost of acceptable extract so I pushed back and added a new layer to myself. Plus Holiday gifts are now a slam-dunk.
Still, it was the berries that started me making frozen desserts at all — because they’re all over the place for a few months where I live, right there for the picking.
I did not know this about myself until roughly 2018, but I love picking blackberries. I pick raspberries and blueberries because I can and because they’re good. I pick blackberries because it is a meditation, an exercise in mindfulness.
When Satan fell from Heaven, he landed in a blackberry patch. That was the worst place ancient storytellers could think of to fall into. I have also felt the sting.
The blackberry bushes give me the biggest, sweetest, juiciest berries of them all, but they take my flesh and blood and sleeves and pant legs if I do not pay full attention to every move. Almost counts in horseshoes but not in blackberry picking.
I pick for a long time without eating a single blackberry. When I’m done, I’ll eat a few, give some away, and freeze the rest. Sometimes I just mix fresh blackberry juice right into the base for the whole churn. Those are great, blackberry creamsicles, more or less.
Swirled is next level, though, and it was not obvious to me how to do it. Adding blackberry, or any berry, to the base, even at the very end of the churning process, results in an immediate blend, not a stable swirl.
I think it takes an artisanal approach, one sicle at a time.
I smash up the frozen berries in a blender, mix in a little sugar and spoon it into each of my Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cream Molds, already half full of the soft-frozen base. then pour in more base, spoon in more fruit. Then one firm stir and move quickly on to the next mold, producing twelve little micro variations at a time..
The only thing that’s mine about My Oreosicle is how over-the-top I am with the delectable add-ins.
It is well-known that Oreo pieces and ice cream love each other. They met at Steve’s Ice Cream, at 191 Elm Street in Somerville, Massachusetts sometime in 1973. Steve Herrell invented the ‘smoosh-in,’ the idea of mixing any kind of cookies and really anything into ice cream. One reason mix-ins are called ‘mix-ins’ is because Steve trademarked ‘smoosh-ins.’
Not surprisingly, I use a lot of Oreos in my product, much more than a reasonable person would use. I pound 32 Oreos into just the right size bits — 16 classic Oreos and 16 Oreo Thins. I have a consistent procedure for accomplishing this reduction in chunk size which utilizes my coffee thermos as the break-up mechanism..
The first time I used that many Oreos for a dozen Oreosicles I was sure it wouldn’t hold together. I was wrong. They held together very well and there was Oreo in every bite and not just a little suggestion of Oreo.
It is one of my most popular items. I know it is my daughter’s favorite and that counts for a lot.
Individually wrapped cookies meet individually wrapped ice cream.
These are high-end biscuits you only see on airplanes, but across the street from where I worked in San Francisco, there was a coffee shop owned by the Biscoff company. They gave these cookies away free with each cup of coffee, which I purchased several times a day, five times a week from 2007–2017.
A Biscoff cookie is a little powerhouse of caramelized butter and flour, with some mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves thrown in. It’s not a normal American flavor, like Oreo. It tastes Euro.
It stands up to ice cream and keeps some crunch as well as Oreos, if not better.
Oatmeal Cookie Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches
There are other ways to unitize ice cream and gain freedom. But they take me off the stick, away from the Fudgsicle and into a sandwich story for another time.
(to be cont’d)
I also write an occasional e-newsletter at Sub-Stack: https://tnickel32.substack.com/