Icebox Ice Cream

By Mark Wieser

OK, you probably don’t have an ice box, but I still do even if you think it’s a refrigerator. I have never gotten used to calling them that. Actually, a real ice box was before my time, but not too long before. As a boy I discovered our old ice box in the barn. I imagine many wound up there across the county.  In the late ‘40s, we still had one at our lake house at Buchanan Dam so I am not unfamiliar with them. They were certainly not convenient. A block of ice was needed every so often or one’s milk could sour. And we lived too far from town so there was no direct home delivery. Bringing home a block of ice wrapped in newspaper was pretty messy.

Despite those disadvantages, American did enjoy making ice cream at home long before ice boxes (remember, for me that’s the modern-day fridge) came along. Probably most homes had an ice cream maker—we didn’t and still don’t. So, I missed out on all that churning as well, but what I didn’t miss out on was Icebox Ice Cream, and I remember it well. My mother mixed up a small batch of vanilla ice-cream and would pour it in our ice tray—we had only one tray. That meant no ice cubes for a day or two, but iced tea wasn’t all that popular then either. I remember the ice cream froze in thin slivered layers producing a texture that would be crunchy and, oh so good!

Food historians believe that the first ice cream began with just flavored ice. The Chinese are credited with that. Marco Polo may have brought back tales of it, but it was the Italians who invented what we know as ice cream during the 1600s. A century later vanilla was added to these concoctions and it finally made its way northern to France and England.

Initially, rich cream was simply added to ice, hence its eventual name, and became a food only the rich could enjoy. George Washington’s books show that he spent about $200 for ice cream in the summer of 1790—must have been hot as hell that year!  Thomas Jefferson had a recipe that included 18 steps for creating his delicacy that resembled a modern-day Baked Alaska. Vanilla was added around 1828. Also eggs and sugar. By the late 19th century it was a dish enjoyed by nearly all Americans.

What I remember most of my mother’s ice cream were those thin, frozen layers. Whether intentional or not, I loved eating it this way as it seemed to consist of biting through dozens of think layers of frozen cream. Here is her recipe. Since it is suggested that we all stay home for now, why don’t you take the opportunity to make some ice cream the old-fashioned way?

1 ½ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp corn syrup
1 tsp flour
A tad of salt
1 egg
½ cup cream
2 tbsp vanilla


Put 1 ½ cups milk in top of double boiler, stir until scalded. Mix ½ cup sugar (or 1/3 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons corn syrup), 1 teaspoon flour and a few grains salt. Add to milk and stir until thickened. Cover and cook ten minutes.

Beat 1 egg yolk slightly, add a portion of the hot milk, return to double boiler and stir and cook one minute. Strain into refrigerator pan, chill, then beat until very light. Beat 1 egg white until stiff, then beat ½ cup cream until stiff and beat into the first mixture with 2 teaspoons vanilla and the egg white.

Freeze mixture for about 1 hour, remove from refrigerator pan, and put in large mixing bowl. Beat vigorously with a rotary eggbeater. Return to refrigerator pan, place again in chilling unit and leave.

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