The Farmstead Dairy, A Domestic View
by Ida Livingston of Davis City, IA
“A new milk cow is stepmother to every man’s baby” – Josh Billings
Family and memories go hand in hand through the years. Family traditions, memorable meals and the people who were brought together around them. Hand-cranked ice cream became a regular at gatherings with friends and family. Did we crank ice cream to celebrate or were we celebrating the hand-cranked ice cream? The lines kinda’ blurred there.
Hand-cranked ice cream is just one of many wonderful things that come from keeping a home milk cow. Not only do you know the source of your dairy products, but you know her name.
In my childhood, water rarely graced our mealtime table. We drank milk. The rough and tumble handful of kids we were, had bones strong enough to handle all the thumps we stumbled into.
Half my childhood we lived with electricity and half we lived off grid. Warm milk fresh from the barn was strained and poured into jars. The milk then was chilled in the fridge to raise the cream. When we moved and went off grid, we chilled our milk in a spring box. Water piped from our spring trickled into a stainless tank which overflowed to keep the water circulating and cold. Even on the hottest days of summer our spring water was cold enough to chill the milk and raise cream.
History and Perspective
Cow’s milk will naturally separate with cream rising to the top. Milk you buy from the store has been homogenized so that it does not separate. There are probably not many who remember creamline milk being available in the grocery store.
Creamline milk has large fat globules that rise to the top of the milk as it cools. This is the cream. Homogenization forces the milk through a fine screen at high pressure to break the large globules into small ones that will then disperse evenly throughout the milk. The role of homogenization has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with consumer preference. In 1899, Auguste Gaulin patented his homogenizer.1 Homogenized milk gained popularity in the 1930-40’s, and by the 1950’s, creamline milk was nearly gone.
Milk bought at the local grocery store will be both pasteurized and homogenized. Unless you live in one of the 13 states that allow raw milk to be sold in retail stores. In that case it might be findable but not common.
Pasteurization was famously brought to us by Louis Pasteur. Yet pasteurizing milk was not suggested by him. His experiments and successes were wrought on wine and beer. This was 1863. It wasn’t until 1886 that a German agricultural chemist by the name of Franz von Soxhlet2 suggested that the pasteurization process could be used to make raw milk safer.
By 1895 commercial pasteurizing began in the United States. In 1917, mandatory pasteurization had begun. The milk they were pasteurizing needed to be. In 1987 the FDA mandated that all milk products, with the exception of aged cheese, must be pasteurized. The consumption of raw milk has been controversial ever since.
The past few decades a war has waged between the raw milk and the pasteurized milk camps. Each, for good reasons, declaring themselves the healthiest.
When pasteurization came about the world was plagued with major sanitation issues accompanying the rise of mass animal confinements. It could hardly be called farming. This led to a dramatic rise in zoonotic diseases (meaning they could transfer from animals to people). The most troublesome of these was bovine tuberculosis. No doubt about it, pasteurization has made mass produced milk safer for the general populous. Among the downsides is that it enables this mass production and often the abuses and sanitation issues that come with it.
Pasteurization also kills the lactase in milk. Lactose is milk sugar, lactase is the enzyme that helps break down these sugars in our body. Without lactase, it is harder for the body to digest milk. I have met quite a few people with lactose intolerance who had no trouble digesting raw milk.
To me, the raw versus pasteurized milk debate is easily settled in my mind. If I am going to drink milk from a cow with a number, lined up in her place in an industrial dairy, you’d better believe I want that milk pasteurized.
For most of my life I drank milk from a cow with a name. When you only have a handful of cows, if that many, you do notice when something isn’t right. No one in their right mind knowingly drinks milk from a sick cow. I have never gotten sick drinking raw milk or personally known anyone else who did. I have every confidence in the farmer selling the same milk he or she brings to their own table.
Back to Milk
A selling point with store bought pasteurized milk is that it always looks and tastes the same, no matter where you are or what time of the year it is. Partly because most of these cows have probably never tasted a fresh blade of grass in their lifetime. They eat consistent diets of hay, silage, and grain year ‘round. The milk from a home milk cow can vary in taste and color throughout the year and differ from one cow to the next.
When a cow eats fresh green grass, her milk can take on a richer color. This is most noticeable when you make butter, nearly white in the winter and turning a deep golden color in the summer. Thank you carotene and chlorophyll.
A cow’s milk can be influenced by her diet in many ways. Some people notice a “green” flavor to the milk when the cows go from eating hay to being turned out on spring pasture.
In Tennessee, one of the earliest spring greens to show up in the pasture was wild onions. Thousands of them. And Daisy loved to eat them. This of course caused her milk to taste like onions. And no, it did not make a good rue, or anything else for that matter. Her milk was really quite unusable for about a month. Then the spring vegetation thickened and covered the wild onions up.
Some cows’ milk will become bitter as they near the time they should dry off in preparation for a new calf. Sometimes in the fall when the acorns fell, Millie would roam the woods with a hankering for nuts. Eating acorns made her milk taste bitter.
These flavors are inconvenient but not injurious. The plant one must watch for is called white snakeroot. It has a toxin that does not hurt the cow but can pass through the milk and harm the calf or you. However, even if you have white snakeroot in your pasture, your cow will likely not eat it unless she is very hungry and desperate. So do not overgraze your pastures and if you do come across a white snakeroot specimen, pull it out and remove it.
One study testing electrolytes found that skim milk beat out all other sport drinks. It kept a person hydrated longer than any of its competition. Its blend of minerals, milk sugar (lactose), protein and a trace amount of fat proved to be the winner of all 13 beverages that were in the running.3
Home Pasteurized Milk
You can buy a kitchen gadget for about anything. One of those things is a home pasteurizer (also used to make yogurt). Or you can just do it the old-fashioned way.
If you wish to pasteurize your milk for any reason, you can do that at home. Simply bring your milk up to 165ºF (74ºC) in a double boiler for 15 seconds. Stir well to ensure that the temperature is even throughout the milk. After 15 seconds, set the top part of the double boiler in ice water and stir the milk to chill it quickly. Overheating the milk will change the flavor and give the milk a cooked taste.
Milk can be canned ahead for when the cow is dry. This milk does not taste good for fresh use, but it works well for any cooking purposes such as baking, gravies, pudding and soup.
Canning milk is not done for its health benefits. Fresh milk is better any day of the week. However, if your cow is going to be dry and you don’t want to buy milk from the store, this will help tide you over. I keep a little canned milk on hand for occasional use.
Any Ball canning book should have thorough instructions on how to do water-bath or pressure canning. However it is unlikely they would have instructions on how to can something as specialized as milk.
To can milk, I fill a jar to within 3/4 inch of the rim, put a lid and ring on it and then pressure cook it at 10 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. I usually can it as skimmed milk. Whole milk, even canned, will have the cream rise in the jar. Canned milk keeps for about a year in the jar on the shelf, then it separates somehow and looks gross (but is still edible). If you only water-bath your milk to can it, it can curdle and turn solid after a couple of months.
Cream must be chilled somewhat to raise. When chilled the fat globules in milk will raise to the top of the jar. Once the cream has raised, I take a ladle and skim it off carefully to get as little milk with it as possible. Usually, the cream is then set aside to bring it up to room temperature before shaking it into butter.
Butter is assumed, but cream can be used in other ways. It can be cultured into sour cream. Cream can be added to soups. A few tablespoons added to chicken noodle soup is a nice improvement. Same with tomato soup. Whisk a small pinch of baking soda into the cream before adding it to the tomato sauce. This helps keep the cream from curdling when contacting the acid.
Homemade whipped cream is a delight second only to homemade ice cream. To make whipped cream you will want to chill the milk very well for a couple days for best results. When you skim the cream, take only the thickest cream from the top. Be very careful not to get any milk.
Now that you have the thick cream, begin beating it with an eggbeater. Some people will add a tiny pinch of salt or a teaspoonful of honey to aid the whipping process. But it should work fine without. You’ll whip it, stirring occasionally, until it holds stiff peaks. Be careful not to overbeat and make it into butter. By this time, you will add the sweetener of your choice 1 tablespoon at a time until it is as sweet as you like. Add a little vanilla with the last addition of sugar.
Whipped cream is great topped on anything. (Okay, not pizza.) It is also great eaten by itself or served in an old-fashioned Apple Salad.
2 c. peeled and grated apples
1 c. sweetened whipped cream
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ c. chopped walnuts (optional)
A tiny pinch of salt
Blend ingredients and serve immediately. Enjoy!
Cream can also be separated with a cream separator. To skim the milk, the cream must be chilled to raise but with the separator, it works best while the milk is still warm. Or at least fresh and not yet chilled.
A cream separator working well will separate the cream far better than anything you can do by hand. And believe me, you are left with skim milk indeed. Colored water. The separator uses high rpms and centripetal force to fling apart the heavier fat particles from the lighter milk. These pour out in separate spouts.
The separated cream is very thick. So thick in fact that it is very difficult to shake it into butter in a jar. My friend Abby Weeks discovered she could lightly chill this cream and then bring it back to room temperature (about a 65ºF room temperature), and then she could turn the cream to butter simply by stirring it with a wooden spoon or a potato masher for about 5 minutes. This technique only works with cream separated in a cream separator on the thickest setting. There is very little buttermilk. Like, with a gallon of turned butter, you could measure the buttermilk with a tablespoon. The chilling is required or else for some reason it will just be unnecessarily difficult to turn to butter. When it chills it sets up and is semi-solid. It chills enough in my root cellar to work. The stirring simply takes the highly concentrated fat globules and causes them to clump together into what we know of as butter. This butter does still need to be rinsed.
The most basic way to make butter is to skim cream off the top of your milk, fill a jar of your choice to about half full and tighten the lid securely. Return the cream to room temperature. Once there, make sure the lid is on very tight and proceed to shake the cream until it separates into butter and buttermilk. I shake it a little longer to ensure that the butter is in nice big clumps, this is much easier to clean. You can also make butter in the blender. The potato masher method does not work on cream skimmed from a jar.
The temperature of the cream greatly affects how long it takes to shake the butter. I have had it finish in 5 minutes and I have had it take an hour. The difference is usually temperature. My friend Deborah insists that the perfect temperature is 67ºF, even a couple degrees cooler can affect the length of time it takes to get it to turn. If your cream is fresh from the fridge, you will basically be shaking it until it warms up enough to separate and clump. In a pinch I’ll sometimes add some warm water (not too much!) to speed the arrival of the correct temperature. Be cautious of letting the cream get too warm. It can cause the fats to separate (melt) and then it will never clump at all.
The cream you shake into butter can be sweet or sour. I grew up eating sour cream butter. It has a little bit of an aged cheese flavor. We loved it. Wash the butter well and you won’t have any of that “sour” taste. At the same time, if you make sweet cream butter and do not wash/rinse it well enough, the milk left in the butter can culture or sour and affect the flavor of the butter.
There are two primary ways to rinse the butter. This washing/rinsing/cleaning or whatever you want to call it, rinses the milk out of the butter. The milk residue sours quickly and can give the butter an off flavor.
First, pour off the buttermilk. Fresh, sweet cream buttermilk is a tasty treat. This is a stop and smell the roses moment. Don’t put it off until tomorrow because tomorrow the buttermilk will have self-cultured and taste not even remotely the same.
I like to rinse the butter in the jar. Simply add some water, put the lid on tightly, shake well and then pour off the now milky water. Repeat this until the water poured off is clear.
Once the last of the water is poured off, dump the butter out of the jar and into a bowl. Press as much water out of the butter with a spoon as possible. Now you are ready to salt your butter.
The other way to do this is to dump the butter into a bowl. Pour water over the butter, stir or pat the butter with a spoon to bring all the clumps together to form one. Fold the butter ball over and over. Pour off the milky water. Add more water and repeat until the water comes clear.
For a small butter pat it only takes a pinch of salt. Otherwise, a nicely salted butter is ¼ tsp per pound of butter. Salt draws out water so don’t be surprised to see your butter “sweat” out more water.
There is a dramatic difference in the color of summer versus winter butter. Each butter has its benefits. While you cow is eating nutrient dense hay, the butter made from this milk is nearly white. Winter butter is higher in saturated fats, it is denser and drier than summer butter and is a better pastry butter. Summer butter is usually anywhere from golden to a deep yellow, almost orange. This comes from the carotene and chlorophyll the cow gets from fresh grass. Sunshine trapped in clumps of butter floating in buttermilk.
Over the years I’ve tried several types of churns. The hand crank paddle kind that fits in a gallon jar is about the slowest one I have found. But you lose none of the cream to sloshing.
There is the crock style churn with a wooden dasher. These have a habit of sloshing a lot of cream out of the top.
The best butter churns I’ve used are the traditional wooden ones. My father made one as described in the Foxfire books (I think it was the 3rd one). Only in the Foxfire book, the angles that the staves needed to be cut to were missing. So, with a little tinkering and trial and error, he figured it out. The other missing link in the book was how to make the hoops. The lock and key ends of a hickory band that fit together make the hoop.
We used this butter churn for years. It was watertight without glue or nails. It churned 2 gallons of cream at a time and if it was at the right temperature, it only took 5 minutes to turn cream to butter. Naturally, after I got married, I wanted one of these butter churns for my own home. So, my father gave Khoke the “pattern”. A stave and a hoop. From this Khoke built our own.
This style can still slosh cream out the top, but the tight-fitting wooden lid is not easily unseated. The key to not sloshing the cream out the top is the circular up and down stomping motion. Never let the stomper come above the surface of the cream, this causes splashing. The lid of the crock churn can be unseated by the activity of the cream. A wooden lid can fit quite tight, and the hole in the lid is just large enough to accommodate the dasher.
In my experience the best ways to make butter is either shaken in a jar or churned in a wooden butter churn. I have never used one of those rocking barrel churns but they look promising.
Ghee is just clarified butter. Butter is made up of fat, milk solids and water. Ghee is when you heat the butter so that the milk solids and water separate from the fat.
Butter’s smoke point is 350ºF whereas ghee is 485ºF. Butter is an emulsified fat, meaning a blend of fat and water that doesn’t separate. Heat activates this separation in the butter. Butter can boil, true fats do not, that is because butter is only 80% fat.
Take a pound or two of butter and heat it in a saucepan on low heat. You will see the butter separate into 3 layers with the golden fat in the center. The flavor of your ghee will vary depending upon how much you caramelize the milk solids on the bottom. You can cook it for quite a while to mature the flavor. The longer you cook it the less foamy the top layer will be.
Skim the layer of foam from the top, carefully, so as not to get any ghee with it. The next layer is the ghee. Skim off the ghee carefully so you don’t get any of the watery milk solids on the bottom in with it. I like to skim the ghee when it is very hot and ladle it into prepared jars. Then I put a lid and ring on it and from the heat the lids self-seal. They keep a long time this way. If you get any of the milk or water at the bottom into your ghee jar it can compromise the storage life and flavor of the ghee.
One year when we made several gallons of ghee, I tried canning it like I do the milk. We didn’t care for it canned. Gave it an off flavor. The self-sealing method has worked the best for us.
Its shelf life is about what you would expect of most oils. Except at my house. It is too good to sit long on a shelf. Ghee makes great pie crusts, biscuits, and I like to pop popcorn with it. Ghee has lots of uses.
Cheese is a much bigger word than what fits in plastic packaging. It has history, culture and tradition all wrapped up in its identity. There is anything from quick basic cheese recipes all the way to complex cheeses that are aged, smoked or seasoned with exotic spices.
Starting at the beginning, cheese is made from milk. Milk separates, given the right conditions, into solids and whey. These solids are what become cheese. Generally, a gallon of cow’s milk is about 8 pounds and will have about 1 pound of solids. When I make a 4-gallon batch of milk into cheese, I usually expect to have about a 4-pound block of cheese.
The milk solid ratio can vary from breed to breed and then even from cow to cow. A Holstein will not have as much milk solids as a Jersey. A goat has more milk solids per gallon than a cow and a sheep will beat them both.
To create any form of hard cheese, the key ingredients are milk (preferably both whole and raw), bacterial culture, rennet and salt. The culture helps determine whether you will wind up with cheddar, Swiss, or any other cheese. The rennet is a set of enzymes that coagulates the milk while it is sweet. The non-iodized salt is for flavor and preservative. It also helps inhibit unwanted bacteria.
Culture and rennet can both be found at most cheesemaking supply outlets. These are isolated and reproduced in a laboratory. I learned to make cheese using these and following Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making. Ricki is also a founder of the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.
My own personal cheesemaking journey has taken me along the path and philosophy of that of David Asher in his well-written book, The Art of Natural Cheesemaking. His point is that cheese has been made for thousands of years without laboratory cultures and rennet.
Cheesemakers from around the world have caught and cultivated wild cultures and by method were able to promote the bacterial flora to create certain cheeses. David Asher’s book teaches where these wild cultures can be found and how to cultivate them. He also gives instructions on how to make your own rennet. This book is a great read, not only for cheese makers but anyone who loves cheese.
The hard cheeses that I make most are Cheddar and Gouda. Making a brick of cheddar from milk to putting it in the press takes 4-5 hours. Then it gets pressed for 24 hours. Once out of the press, it air dries for several days to develop a rind before I send it to the cellar to age. I usually let it age down there 2-4 months, sometimes more. We like our cheese sharp.
Gouda is a lower acid cheese that ages faster. Some of the whey is poured off and replaced with water to lower the acidity. It is considered a “washed curd” cheese for the water added to dilute the whey. Gouda is pressed without salt and once removed from the press it sits in a saltwater brine for 12 hours. Then it is air dried to develop its rind before it takes its trip to the cellar for 2 months.
Cheese presses are generally expensive and sometimes hard to find. Khoke made ours by ordering plates of heavy-duty stainless steel, 8-inch diameter stainless piping and a stainless threaded bar. Then he drilled the holes in the plate, welded, cut, and filed the pieces to make our heavy-duty press. This is a heavy-duty press that will handle up to an 8-pound brick of cheese.
But honestly, I make more than one brick in a day sometimes and only have one press. Technically. Khoke also cut out 9-inch diameter wooden blocks that fit in my straight sided colanders. In a pinch I use these. I wrap the curds in cheesecloth, put it in the colander, place the wooden blocks on it and balance weights on the blocks to press extra cheese. This is a very inexpensive way to begin cheesemaking before investing in expensive equipment. All a person really needs is a straight sided colander (mine are steamer inserts for my pots), then you cut out a wooden insert to fit them and find something to use as weights.
Another cheesemaking confession is that I do not like commercial cheesecloth and so I do not use them. I cut the front and back off of tee-shirts and use this for cheesecloth. These are washed and reused many times. Once I started doing this I never looked back.
Aside from hard cheese, I also make quick cheeses like what I call Vinegar Cheese. This is basically Paneer in the simplest and easiest possible way.
Ingredients: whole milk, vinegar
Bring milk, whether it be 1 quart or 5 gallons, up to 170ºF. Pour vinegar into the milk slowly while stirring continually. You will have enough vinegar when the whey and the curd separate. This will quickly become obvious. Pour into a colander to drain off the whey. The remaining solids are vinegar cheese.
Vinegar cheese is very bland by itself, but it makes a great base for other things. Grated and salted, I like to mix it with mayo and chopped vegetables, like fresh tomatoes, peppers and sautéed onions. Khoke likes it mixed with mayo and dill weed. We call this cheese spread and serve it on sandwiches.
The milk can be heated to different temperatures, anywhere from 140ºF – 190ºF. The higher temperatures produce a crumbly cheese that will not melt. I like to fry this cheese with vegetables, it is also good crumbled into summer salads. When heated at a lower temperature it takes more vinegar to separate the curds and whey. The lower temperature vinegar cheese melts easily, especially if you stir just a pinch of baking soda into the cheese after the whey has drained.
When making cheese, whey is a byproduct. This is a slightly acidic watery liquid that remains after the solids have separated themselves.
There are plenty of uses for whey. One can use it in place of water when making breads. It can be used to culture, wash or ripen cheeses. There are those who use it to lacto-ferment vegetables.
Traditional Ricotta cheese is made from whey. Though a gallon of whey will yield maybe half a cup of Ricotta cheese. Note, this is not made from high temperature heated wheys such as vinegar cheese whey.
Some industrious Scandinavian person with much more patience than I have, created Mysost. This takes lots of whey and lots of time. A sweet whey is cooked down over the course of several hours to a fudge-like consistency. After many hours of slow cooking, lots of stirring so it doesn’t scorch and adding a little cream along the way, you end up with this rare delicacy.
In the meantime, I use whey to make eggs. I soak my chicken feed in whey and feed it to my layers and everyone is happy. The whey is not wasted, and the chickens lay better with the supplemental protein. A win for us all.
Yogurt is a cultured milk. The standard cultured probiotics in yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.
For many years I did a great job of making terrible yogurt. Thankfully that is now past tense. The key is using a good starter. Yogurt starter can be bought from a supplier, or you can just get some yogurt from the store with live cultures and use it. One tablespoon of yogurt to one quart of prepared milk should do the trick. Avoid using starter yogurt with thickeners, sweeteners, or other additives. Use only yogurt that has cultured milk as its sole ingredient. I prefer plain Greek yogurt starter.
½ gallon milk (I use whole milk)
2 tbls. starter
Bring milk up to 180ºF. Remove from heat. Let milk temperature fall to 100º-110ºF. Whisk in the starter. Pour into jars and keep at 100ºF for 4-6 hours or until it sets up. A thermos or wrapped in a towel in a cooler works well. Once it sets up then it is ready to chill until served. You should never have to add a thickening agent to make the yogurt set up. It will do it on its own if done correctly.
I have had the best success by making large batches of yogurt. I’ll heat 2-3 gallons of milk to 180ºF, let it cool to 110ºF, stir in the culture and then wrap the whole pot in a towel and set it in a warm place. The warm yogurt has enough mass when done this way, and wrapped well, it cools slowly and has time to fully culture itself.
Kefir is a lightly fermented, slightly carbonated dairy product with bacterial cultures and yeasts living in a symbiotic relationship. It comes to us from the Caucasus Mountains where it has been enjoyed for about 2,000 years.
Kefir is made by adding kefir grains to fresh milk. Kefir grains are just little gelatin-like lumps of starter that grow from one batch to the next. The milk with starter sits at room temperature until it forms a soft curd. The soft curd is dumped through a strainer to hold out the grains which are then added to a fresh jar of milk.
Books are a great resource to have on hand. They broaden our knowledge and understanding on specific topics. They are great for thorough instructions and as an on-hand reference when we need to be reminded of how to do something.
The two cheesemaking books on my own shelf are Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll, and The Art of Natural Cheesemaking by David Asher. I highly recommend both of these books.
Ricki Carroll was a pioneer of the home cheesemaking revival, her book covers how to make about 75 different cheeses. She uses standardized cultures, rennet, and other products. She has very clear, easy-to-follow recipes and instructions. She teaches how to make small scale industrial standard cheeses.
David Asher covers 30 or so cheeses and also other dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and cultured butters. His book covers a much more in-depth look at cheese, its origins, and a natural, sustainable approach to its production.
Although I have and do recommend these books there are many other books that I am sure would be an excellent resource. They each will bring something new or different to the table simply because they are written from another perspective coming from another person’s personal experience and journey. Behind every reference or instructional book is a flesh and blood person who worked hard for what they know and had the courage to try to share it with the world.
Other resources include supply outlets:
Hoegger Supply Company
160 Providence Rd.
Fayetteville, GA 30215
New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.
54 Whately Rd. Ste B
South Deerfield, MA 01373
Country Freezer Store
765 Hunting Creek Road
North Wilkesboro, NC 28659
Homemade Ice Cream
Saving the best for last, let’s talk about why we got the cow in the first place – affordable, high quality ice cream. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely why, but it definitely helps.
When creating a great ice cream, you may as well forget dieting. Sure, it is fattening but at least it doesn’t have any food grade anti-freeze or other questionable additives. I have included my regular homemade ice cream recipe.
Vanilla Ice Cream (1 gallon)
4 tbls. vanilla
2 c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
3 c. milk
1½ – 2 quarts heavy cream
Mix eggs, sugar and milk in a saucepan, whisk until smooth. Bring mixture up to 165ºF for about a minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in the salt and vanilla.
Pour this custard into ice cream maker, add cream to the fill line (about 2/3 – 3/4 full). You have to leave enough space for it to expand. Put the dasher in, the lid on and affix the handle. Pack ice around the cylinder and layer it with rock salt. Crank the handle until it becomes very difficult to turn. The harder it turns the stiffer the ice cream.
Let’s break down the recipe and process to better understand it. Eggs (particularly the yolk) are an emulsifier like the soy lecithin you usually see on ingredient labels. They help stabilize the formula. Emulsifiers blend ingredients that would normally separate like oil and water. Eggs need to be heated to at least 160ºF to be considered cooked. Though I have occasionally made raw-mixed ice cream with my own farm fresh eggs, I would never do this with store bought eggs, those would definitely always have to be cooked.
The sugars improve the flavor and texture. Vanilla is for flavor obviously, but it also lowers the freezing point because of the alcohol in it. This makes fewer crunchy ice crystals in your ice cream.
Believe it or not, salt helps you taste sweet. It enhances and makes fuller flavors. Without salt, food can taste “flat.” But, if you salt your dairy product when it is too warm it can curdle the milk; that chunky, clotted look we all dread.
The balance of milk and cream is important. The fat in the cream helps stabilize the ice cream with more density and smoother texture; it lowers the freezing point, adds richness and enhances the flavors. But you don’t want all cream. Too much fat and it will taste like a mouth full of flavored and sweetened butter. But too much milk will give you large crunchy ice crystals. So you need these balanced.
I’ve had ice creams that were made with gelatin or other starches to help stabilize the formula and use less cream. But some of these tend to taste like a frozen pudding instead of ice cream.
The can in the ice cream maker cannot be filled brim full. It should only be filled about 2/3 full to give the custard and cream enough space to expand with the ice crystals that form in it.
Pack the ice around the can as tight as possible and sprinkle rock salt in layers throughout the ice. Salt lowers the freezing point making the ice melt faster. As the ice melts the cold is conducted through the metal can and into the creaminess within. Cranking the handle turns the can and dasher within it, blending the mixture so it chills evenly. Turning the handle slowly can create larger ice crystals but turning it too fast may create flecks of butter. This is rare and hard to do, but I had it happen once. All things in moderation.
Once the handle becomes very difficult to crank, you are likely done. The harder it is to turn the stiffer the ice cream. This ice cream can be served immediately or scooped into a container and frozen in the freezer. Its texture will change and become harder, but it is still delightful. I like to make ice cream in the winter, and I leave the can in the salty ice water outside where it will stay frozen, but the salted ice keeps it from freezing rock hard. Then we eat the ice cream over the course of a few days.
The best ice cream freezer I have found is the American made Country freezer (www.CountryFreezerStore.com). They have an impressive range of freezers from a one-quart size to 5-gallon size. They are high quality and long-lasting ice cream freezers that have replacement parts that can be bought. Another ice cream maker that I have heard (word of mouth) to be a reputable brand is Immergood (www.MyImmergood.com), and it too has high quality parts that can be replaced if necessary. Salt is hard on metal and frequent use does eventually wear things out. Both Immergood and Country ice cream makers are manufactured in the USA, more specifically, Ohio and Pennsylvania. White Mountain is a brand that used to set the bar but in recent years has not held up to the standard it once maintained.
Flavored Ice Creams (variations of the recipe)
Peanut Butter – Take 2/3 c. peanut butter and an additional 1/3 c. sugar and cream them together. Add heavy cream one tablespoonful at a time until the peanut butter mixture is thin and smooth. Whisk this into a finished ice cream custard. Proceed with the basic ice cream instructions.
Butter Pecan – Replace 2 tbls. vanilla with Butter Pecan flavoring (optional) in the custard. Roast 1 ½ c. pecans in 3 tbls. butter in a skillet until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool. When the churning is finished, fold the roasted pecans into the ice cream.
Lemon – Replace 3 tbls of vanilla with lemon extract.
Cantaloupe – Reduce the vanilla to 1 tablespoon. Cook the custard with cream instead of milk. Mash or blend 1-2 peeled and chunked cantaloupe and then strain the juice through a cheese cloth. Add 3 cups of juice to the can after the custard but before filling it to the fill line with cream.
Cantaloupe ice cream is surprisingly good. A winner every time. The same process can be followed to make peach, strawberry or almost any other fruit flavored ice cream. You want to only use juice, no pulp. The pulp will taste like sour chunks and take away from the overall effect. Always use very ripe fruit.
Get creative with the flavors you enjoy. Memories are made by things like this. How many times do I remember kids scamping about, slipping ice inside each other’s collars while we cranked a batch of ice cream. The real rascals were the ones who would sprinkle just a little salt on your ice cream bowl when you weren’t looking. I am sure I didn’t do this. My memory is a little fuzzy about my involvement. New flavors were tried, there were many great hits and a few great misses. At the end of the day, it’s a life well lived.