May 30, 2012 10:20:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when churning an ice cream freezer on the back porch was a summertime ritual. Every strong arm in the family took a turn at the crank, and youngsters in the right place at the right time got to lick the dasher (the churning paddle inside the ice cream maker). But since the 1960s, the explosion in the number of working moms, and our addiction to ever-busier schedules, have driven most of us to grocery store freezer sections for the ready-made stuff.
But, not everybody.
Jonathan Miller and his wife, Jessica, like the taste and texture of homemade ice cream so much, the Brooksville couple started up Miller's Homemade Scoops almost one year ago. With the help of a restored John Deere hit-and-miss engine and an intriguing arrangement of flywheels and belts, they revive a taste of summers past at festivals and farmers' markets throughout the area.
Music to his ears
POP, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, POP, whoosh, whoosh, sang Jonathan's ice cream machine at the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market in Columbus Saturday morning. The sound -- the hit and miss -- drew curious kids plus several adult men, who couldn't pass up the chance to admire an engine.
With each static pop, the contraption emitted a small puff of black exhaust, but Jonathan was not alarmed. These pops and puffs are music to his ears.
"When you hear it pop it means it's firing," explained the manufacturing engineer. "The harder the ice cream gets, the harder it pops; that's how I tell if its done, by how many times it pops or fires."
When the rhythm reaches about 12 pops per 10 seconds, a fresh 5-gallon batch of homemade ice cream has reached its peak of texture and flavor.
The engines used in these machines were produced by various companies from the 1890s through about 1940. Their heaviest usage was from about 1910 through the early 1930s, when more modern designs came along. They're not so easy to find; many of the hit-and-miss engines went for scrap metal during and after World War II and the Korean War. Jonathan's rebuilt engine and machine came from an Amish source in Ohio.
The Millers make all of their ice cream on the spot.
Because about 80 percent of their audience requests vanilla ice cream, the couple has invested a lot of time in perfecting their version of it.
"I've tried different types of vanilla, and I'm still experimenting with a vanilla bean ice cream; I like to be creative," smiled Jonathan, noting that banana is another oft-requested flavor. "I add real bananas; I like to use real fruit for any of the fruit ice creams -- no artificial flavors."
When the John Deere machine goes on the road, Jonathan and Jessica carry even the kitchen sink -- a portable sink unit, that is. Along with a portable freezer, tables and huge, heavy coolers of ice, milk and cream, plus supplies.
"It takes about 60 to 70 pounds of ice for the first 5-gallon batch of ice cream, and then I add about 20 pounds for every batch after that," explained Jonathan. When it comes to salt, each first batch of the run takes about 12 pounds; every subsequent batch requires about 6 pounds more.
As her husband talked, Jessica waited on customers with a ready smile. Nearby, the last of more than a dozen contestants in a farmers' market ice cream eating contest enjoyed what was left in their bowls.
"It's been a lot of fun getting out and meeting so many new people," said Jessica of the couple's weekends at area festivals and gatherings. She and her husband look forward to the day their young sons, now 4 and 7, are old enough to lend a hand. The boys should have no problem with what their father says is the first job requirement -- you have to like to eat ice cream.
"I grew up hand-cranking ice cream," said Jonathan. "It was one of my favorite things to do. I don't think anything beats the taste of homemade ice cream. Every time I make a batch, it kind of brings back memories of when we used to make it at home."
MARTHA STEWART'S HOMEMADE VANILLA BEAN ICE CREAM
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped
2 cups milk, chilled
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
(Source: Martha Stewart Living, 2003)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.