SOME PEOPLE contend that it starts to feel like summertime on Memorial Day. Others argue the true languor of summertime does not arrive until the Fourth of July.
I say it does not feel like summer until I have had a batch of homemade ice cream. By that standard, summer arrived about two weeks ago, with rich pink mounds of creamy strawberry ice cream.
There are several keys, I think, to making good homemade ice cream. One is having very ripe fruit -- fragrant peaches, super-soft cantaloupe, sweet strawberries. When the fruit is so ripe that it is almost rotten, it is ideal to add to the sweet cream base. The flavors are strong enough to keep pace with the rich ice cream. In contrast, hard, barely ripe fruit produces mediocre ice cream.
In late May and early June about the only local fruit that can attain this decadent kind of ripeness is the strawberry.
Recently, after my family bought some strawberries that were a deep red, we sliced them into little pieces. Actually, a food processor did the slicing. It is important to keep the pieces of fruit small.
If you go for the "big berry look," you will end up with an ice cream that has large pieces of fruit that are frozen solid. Ice cream gurus recommend various techniques of fruit mashing. For instance, one peach ice cream maker I know contends that the only way to get the peach pieces small enough is to mash them with your bare hands.
Noise is the other key component of good homemade ice cream. Slicing fruit in a food processor produces a racket, but it is not as loud as the next step, the churning.
I have heard tall tales from years ago describing how folks used to make ice cream with manually operated churns. The way I heard the stories, the work was so hard that the morning after a town's ice cream social, the crankers would be holding their sore arms, begging for servings of leftover ice cream to help them forget their tired muscles.
Nowadays, the churning duties are performed by electric motors of various strengths and price tags. I have a weak, inexpensive ice-cream maker that is very loud. I put it in the basement, plug it in and it shrieks for 45 minutes or so. But when the noise stops, it means the ice cream is ready and that summer has started.
Sweet Cream Base
Yield: 1 quart
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk
Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.
Strawberry Ice Cream
Yield : 1 quart
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
sweet cream base
Combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Prepare sweet cream base. Mash the strawberries and puree them in food processor. Stir berries into sweet cream base.
Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions.
-- From "Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book" (Workman, 1987) by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield with Nancy J. Stevens