In Search of Suzy's Peppermint

The Resurrection of a Recipe

Homemade ice cream is a time-honored summer ritual. My earliest ice cream memories involve sitting on folded towels atop my grandparents' manual ice cream freezer out in their back yard. I would take my turn at the crank with all the other cousins and then we'd share the delicious contents with the family. There was plenty of ice cream making at our house, too. Both my younger sister and I have July birthdays and we were always treated to a batch of our favorite flavor to celebrate the occasion. If the family had managed a summer trip to Austin – passing through Gillespie County's peach orchards on our way – my choice would be peach. My sister invariably chose peppermint, Mother's special recipe with the secret ingredient.

It's been years since I spent summers in the place I grew up, and I make my own birthday ice cream now (Frangelico Peach; see recipe below). But my mother and sister carried on the birthday ice cream tradition all the way through to last summer. Since Suzy's birthday falls near the Fourth, she was usually able to spend that weekend at Mother's house in Midland. They would watch the Miss Texas Pageant on television and make Suzy's ice cream together. Mother was in and out of the hospital the whole month of July last year before she died, but they did manage to get the ice cream made anyway. The freezer they'd bought especially for the birthday ritual now belongs to my sister. It turns out, however, that the equipment is the easiest part.

With Mother gone, I wanted to surprise Suzy by continuing her birthday tradition, but I'd have to confer with her about the actual recipe. Both of us had made the ice cream with Mother, but no reliable written copy of the recipe seemed to exist. Mother's longtime caregiver, Lucy, assured me that the recipe was on a card in one of the little metal recipe boxes. It wasn't. We're not sure where the original peppermint ice cream recipe came from but Suzy thought maybe Helen Corbitt's Cookbook (Houghton-Mifflin, 1957), a treasure that no 1950's Texas homemaker would have been without. Mother's cookbooks and recipes had since come to me, so I checked Helen Corbitt and found a recipe that probably inspired Mother's version. The quantities aren't the same and there's no mention of the secret ingredient, but it could be where she started. Suzy was pretty sure about the amount of half-and-half, milk, and eggs. I would have to do some testing to figure out the right ratio of sugar and candy.

Locating the secret ingredient candy was my next hurdle. This particular ice cream is made with a peppermint stick candy known as "pure sugar sticks," the most common brand being Bob's Olde Timey Pure Sugar Sticks. The sticks are made with sugar rather than corn syrup, resulting in a somewhat porous texture and no shiny coating. Small bags of the sticks can be found anywhere during the holiday season, but they are mighty scarce in July. All those years, Mother must have either had a secret source or she planned ahead, stockpiling a few bags after Christmas.

Since the candy was nowhere to be found, I made a batch with regular hard, shiny peppermint sticks. It just wasn't the same. Since this was a mission for posterity's sake, I knew I had to conduct a thorough search. I called just about every store around town, describing the candies to baffled grocery employees who in turn generated vague, unsatisfying responses. Finally, I called Crestview Mini-Max, famous far outside its neighborhood for its small town feel and scrupulous customer service. The grocery manager knew exactly what I was talking about. He looked in the store room, found an old box with the company name and address and in no time I was on the phone to Bob's Candies of Albany, Georgia. The mail order division sent enough little sacks of candy for many, many freezers of ice cream.

With peppermint candy in the house and a reasonable approximation of a recipe, I got out my trusty White Mountain freezer and went to work. Since I planned to print the recipe, I knew I'd have to heat the egg custard to at least 165 degrees to kill any possible Salmonella bacteria -- though we'd never done it that way growing up, and Suzy still doesn't. (Note: It is currently common practice in food writing and commercial food service to avoid recipes that include raw eggs because of the danger of contamination from Salmonella bacteria. How ice cream is made in private homes is the responsibility of the consumer). Cooking the custard isn't really difficult, but it's necessary to watch the heat so the eggs don't curdle. In addition, the custard has to cool completely before making the ice cream. The other change I made involved an insider's trick I learned from an article in Fine Cooking magazine (Aug/Sep. 1995, No.10) written by a professional ice cream maker. The addition of a small amount of low-fat dried milk to the custard stabilizes the emulsion without adding fat by absorbing some of the extra water in the mixture. It's a great hint that makes a positive contribution to the texture and "mouth-feel" of the finished product.

The first batch wasn't quite sweet enough to suit me and the next one made everyone's teeth ache. I finally settled on a recipe I liked (see below) and was ready to make it for my sister. It is lovely ice cream; pale pink, creamy, and refreshing on a hot day. As part of Suzy's gift, I passed along half of my stash of candy bags so she could make some for herself. The moral of this story: Now is the time to write down those treasured family recipes.

Suzy's Peppermint Ice Cream

(makes about 3 quarts)

16oz Bob's Olde Timey Pure Sugar Sticks peppermint candy

1 1/2 quarts half-and-half

4 whole eggs

1 cup sugar

2 cups milk

1/2 cup low-fat dried milk powder

The day before you make the ice cream, put the candy sticks in a container with the half-and-half and refrigerate to dissolve. Whisk together the eggs and sugar and set aside. Combine the milk and milk powder in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking to blend. When the milk is hot to the touch, remove about 1/2 cup of the milk and, whisking as you pour, add the sugar/yolk mixture, tempering the eggs. Once again whisking as you pour, add the milk/sugar/yolk mixture to the saucepan and whisk gently until the mixture begins to thicken. Heat the mixture carefully and slowly so as not to curdle the eggs. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover and chill for at least four hours or overnight. Combine the custard with the half-and-half in which the candy is dissolved in the canister of a one-gallon ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturers directions. For the candy contact Bob's Mail Order Candy, P.O. Box 3170 Albany, Georgia 31706; 1-800-569-4033; http//

Frangelico Peach Ice Cream

(makes about 3 quarts)

7 large, ripe peaches, peeled and sliced

3 tbs Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (substitute Amaretto or dark rum)

3 eggs

1 3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup non-fat dried milk powder

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Combine the peach slices and the liqueur in a sealed container and macerate in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs until thick and then add sugar, beating to dissolve. Combine the milk and milk powder in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. When the milk is hot to the touch, remove 1/2 cup and, whisking as you pour, add the hot milk to the egg/sugar mixture, tempering the eggs. Once again whisking as you pour, add the milk/sugar/egg mixture to the saucepan and whisk gently until the mixture begins to thicken. Heat the mixture carefully and slowly so as not to curdle the eggs. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. When the custard is cold, purée the peach mixture to small chunks in the food processor and whisk it into the custard along with the whipping cream. Pour mixture into the canister of a one-gallon ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. The alcohol in the liqueur keeps the peach pieces from freezing too hard and Frangelico has a marvelous affinity for peaches.

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