Summer Senses: The Taste of Soft Ice Cream

IMG_8312Many foods say “summer” to me.

Corn on the cob, from the farmer down the road.

Tiny wild blueberries, from the secret place our friend knows.

Slightly-charred kielbasa, from the grill on which my husband works his magic.

But one food trumps them all for its ability to put the sensation of summer into every bite, or should I say every lick?

Summer is . . . soft-serve ice cream from a roadside stand.

The North Country has lots of soft ice cream. One place serves only one flavor a day and no one cares because all the flavors are so good. Other spots serve 65 flavors every day.

You can get your ice cream in a paper cup and eat it with a spoon but, really, what fun is that? Soft-serve is at its best when it’s in a cone and you can get the ice cream down into every nook and cranny of the cone by gently tapping the bottom on the heel of your hand.

I’m sure my love of soft ice cream is tied up with childhood memories.

My father loved ice cream; it was a well-known fact. When I was about 5 years old, we moved to a new house, up the road from my grandparents’ farm and at the housewarming party one of the gifts was a huge Pyrex mixing bowl, labeled “Don’s ice cream bowl.”

Because he loved ice cream so much, during the summer we’d frequently make the trip from the farm, about 8 miles, to the Tastee-Freeze. It was Harrigan’s Tastee-Freeze and I can remember their ads used the Irish-American song—“H-A-double R-I-G-A-N spells Harrigan.” The same family owns it today, 55 years later.

Harrigan’s was only open, as are all these roadside places, for a few short, special summer months. For the first week they opened in the summer, they’d give little gifts to every child who came in. Ice cream and a trinket? Heaven to a seven-year-old.

We’d go to Harrigan’s in the pick-up truck, with my sister and me riding in the back on really balmy nights.

My father and I always had vanilla cones and my sister always had chocolate.

But then a new wonder came to town! A stand opened called Finney’s Freezer and they had that modern marvel—the TWIST! Chocolate and vanilla ice creams were swirled together into the cone.

Finney’s Freezer was much farther away from our house than Harrigan’s but my father thought it was worth the trip. He and I always had the twist. My sister always had chocolate.

Now our “local” is a place called the Happy Pike. The Happy Pike is about 6 miles from our house so the 12-mile round trip is a perfect bike ride away, far enough to justify a medium cone, instead of a small!

But, of course, we mostly go by car.

We can sit outside and watch the lake and the boats. We have to eat quickly, of course, because the ice cream starts soft and melts fast, and we chase the drips with our tongues. We always end up with a touch of “brain freeze.”

But then, so soon, summer ends, and the roadside stands are shuttered. Big signs say, “Thanks! See you next year.”

During the winter, I’ll eat regular hard-packed ice cream and enjoy it very much. But I will fantasize about soft ice cream and the end of May when the stands open again, because that will make it official—summer has begun.

I bet you have some special food that says “summer” to you—is it soft ice cream?

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You Put Zucchini in What?!

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In the twenty-five years she’d lived in Three Pines she’d never, ever heard of a crime. The only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time.   (Still Life, Louise Penny)

The poor maligned zucchini. They are so plentiful that no one much appreciates them. That, combined with the fact that there are only so many ways you can use them, means, I suspect, that a lot of zucchini goes to waste.

If you’ve received the gift of many zucchinis and have made all the zucchini bread you can handle, it’s time to take a walk on the wild side.

How about trying some zucchini frozen yogurt?

WAIT! Before you just scream “ICK!!” and click on someone else’s blog, hear me out!

I have had this recipe for years—it seems to have come from a 1997 issue of Country Living magazine. It sounded so bizarre and intriguing, I decided to give it a try. We were having company for dinner, the kind of friends who I knew would forgive me if this ended up being just a really, really bad idea.

But I loved it! And they said they did, too! (Of course, they are also the kind of friends who wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings . . .) The flavor is not that of zucchini, which we all know has very little flavor. What you taste is the lemon and the tartness of the yogurt, a very refreshing combination. The zucchini mostly adds texture and a little crunch to the frozen yogurt. (Full disclosure: my husband, who is not afraid of hurting my feelings, doesn’t love this and says the zucchini is stringy. You decide.)

You need to try this at least once:

  1. it’s good—even if you don’t love it, you won’t hate it
  2. it’s fun—let people taste it and then spring it on them what it’s made of!
  3. it’s healthy—almost no fat and, really, how many desserts provide you with one of those elusive 5 servings of vegetables you’re supposed to eat?
  4. it’ll use up some zucchini

Zucchini Frozen Yogurt

Makes about 10 ½-cup servings

  • 8 ounces of zucchini, coarsely shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk; I used regular sweetened condensed milk because it’s what I had on hand)
  • 16 ounces plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  1. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat grated zucchini, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest to boiling over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.zucchini yogurt-1zucchini yogurt-2
  2. Boil zucchini mixture for 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat and, in larger bowl, combine zucchini and sweetened condensed milk; stir until well mixed.
  4. Stir in yogurt and lemon extract until no lumps of yogurt remain. Cover and refrigerate zucchini mixture until cold.
  5. Freeze mixture in ice-cream maker following manufacturer’s directions.
  6. Spoon soft frozen yogurt into airtight container; cover and freeze until firm enough to scoop, 2 hours to overnight.

zucchini yogurt-4I served this with oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, just in case the yogurt was gross. I liked the combination of the refreshing lemony yogurt and the robust cookies.

So, I hope you’ll give this a try and let me know what you think!

PS: The zucchini quote from the top of the page is from the book Still Life, the first in a series of great mysteries by Louise Penny. If you like well-written mysteries and haven’t found Penny yet, give her a try!

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