Ice cream is a BIG deal in my family. I grew up with my mother’s recipe of homemade, hand-cranked, soft ,vanilla stuff, sometimes with peaches or strawberry, made nearly every holiday by the men in my family who sat in the garage chopping away at the block ice, layering coarse salt and shoving a broom handle around the ice to speed up the freezing process. My dad rarely relinquished his beloved hand-crank machine and did most the turning until he finally acquiesced in letting an uncle take a turn and give it that extra oomph until it couldn’t budge any more. The freezer would be transferred to the kitchen sink where it would wait until the burgers were grilled and eaten, the potato salad put away, and all remnants of the barbecue were cleaned up. My mom would unpack the freezer and begin scooping soft, white clouds into bowls and we would float away to quietly enjoy the end of our holiday.
Homemade ice cream was never the same after my father passed away. The grocery store ice cream and even Dairy Queen soft serve didn’t hold a candle to my childhood memories. I subsequently lost my desire for it until my pregnancies when Dreyers vanilla ice cream became a vehicle for my peanut butter cravings. But then anything became a vehicle for peanut butter. Then I was introduced to Gelato Paradiso in Corona del Mar. It smelled like homemade sugar cookies. Stainless steel loaf pans with a rainbow of billowing pistachio, bacchio, and sorbets. All made on location. It wasn’t quite mother’s homemade, but it was a great substitute.
A subsequent trip to Italy led to a search for the best Italian gelato. Those first two weeks, we tasted gelatos throughout Tuscany, and they were delicious. Grom, which was hailed as the best gelato in Florence by Rick Steves, was a must-see. Hidden in an alley, the gelato was in stainless buckets and recessed into a freezer case. Yes, Rick Steves, it was excellent.
In Rome, we set about to find Cristina’s, as we were told by a friend had the BEST gelato in all of Italy. Arriving at our hotel early we headed out to dinner and then to began our hunt, which we were told was near the fountain Trevi (also near our hotel). We didn’t think it would be too difficult to find Cristinas. (Hint—never set about to find anything in Italy without asking for directions first.) Our efforts were in vain and we arrived back at our hotel tired and frustrated. Julio, our desk clerk, did not know of Cristinas, he shook his head, until his eyes lit up and asked, “Do you mean San Crispino’s? Go down the stairs to the street and turn left. You will see their doorway.”
As soon as we exited the hotel and landed on the street, we saw a couple eating an ice cream cone. Next door to our hotel was a doorway with a bronze plaque that simply said “San Crispino”. Next door! No indication that it was a gelateria, we walked through the narrow alley of a shop and there the stainless buckets buried in the counter with traditional flavors of bacchio and pistachio, and avant garde honey lavender, rosemary, and my soon to be favorite, meringue. The meringue was rich in vanilla custard with bits of meringue swirled through it, and for our three days in Rome I was in gelato heaven.
Fast forward two years I am living in Central Oregon that is void of a gelateria. My 20 year old electric (sorry, dad) ice cream maker came out of storage and I set about to replicate the meringue gelato. A few attempts and I achieved something that I think is as satisfying and brings back memories of Rome.
Meringue Gelato with Oregon Hazelnuts (click for recipe)
Note: Attempting to make a lower calorie version of this gelato is futile. Heavy cream is required! The process takes a full 24 hours, and worth it!
Oregon Cherry and Pinot Noir Sherbet (click for recipe)
I experimented making a cherry sherbet adding Pinot Noir from the Four Graces in the Willamette Valley. Oregon Pinot Noirs are full flavored with bold fruit and hints of cherry that go in a sherbet using sweet cherries that I purchased at the farmers market. While you don’t need a $40 Pinot Noir for this recipe, use a Pinot that has strong fruit and little tannins. French or California Pinot Noirs do not work as well as they are earthier and more austere, therefore adjust the sugar in the recipe accordingly.
Mom’s Vanilla Ice Cream (click for recipe)
This is her traditional recipe that is written for the hand-crank machine. Seriously, quite simply, the BEST vanilla ice cream.