The heat this summer has been reminding me of my childhood. There was no air conditioning in those days and Michigan could be brutally hot in July. I remember lying in front of my bedroom window at night, trying to get the smallest puff of a breeze.
The sound of those summers was hearing the drone of the announcer giving the play-by-play of the Detroit Tiger’s baseball team while Grandpa sat in his shirt sleeves with his ear next to the radio. He was seldom without a suit jacket but it was a concession to the temperature. Never short sleeves though.
During World War II my father worked at AC Sparkplugs as a tool and die maker. The factories were sweltering. As soon as he got home we would climb into the 1934 Ford and drive a mile to Picnic Lake, a small weed surrounded pond with a tiny sandy beach area. We didn’t have a shower (or bathtub for that matter), it was where he could wash off the factory grime and sweat. Once the war was over he left the shop and worked as a carpenter. I don’t remember him every going swimming again.
One of our occasional summer treats was homemade ice cream. My brother Charles and I would go with Daddy to buy a big chunk of ice. When we got home he put it in a burlap bag and beat on it with the flat side of an ax. When It was crushed enough, Mamma would bring out the tall gallon-sized can that she’d filled with a mixture of eggs, sugar, vanilla, cream and milk.
The container fit into the bottom of a bigger wooden barrel-type container. The can held a paddle that attached to a heavy metal gear with a crank on the side. This fit over the top of the barrel. When that was all in place, Charlie and I started scooping ice into the space around the can. A layer of ice and then a layer of rock salt and then another layer of ice. Near the top we had to be careful with the salt. It was important that it not get into the container and spoil the ice cream.
In the beginning Daddy let us turn the crank but when the cream started to freeze, it was too hard for us. He had to take over. When it was too stiff to turn any longer. He took the can out of the icy water and into the kitchen. We hovered near Mamma’s elbows, each with a spoon, while she pulled the ice cream covered paddle out of the center. Those first few bites were the best. The sweet, creamy, vanilla flavor along with the slightly icy consistency was my favorite food.
After graduation from high school, I worked as a service representative for Bell Telephone in Detroit. My desk was in a huge room with sixty other women. If the temperature reached 90 degrees we were sent home. Supervisors stayed to take calls. When the thermometer reached the high eighties we’d keep our fingers crossed that it would reach 90.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 quart heavy cream
Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla, add cream and pour into a one gallon freezer can. Add milk to withing three inches of the top.
Place in freezing tub. Layer ice and salt while turning the crank constantly. Stop when it’s too stiff to turn.