The season is not only here, it is quite literally upon us. Unlike the winter 0f 2009-2010, this year is a cold, snowy journey that will likely see many more inches of precipitation. With that in mind, I'm taking it in stride, riding the wave and obviously using many, many cliches.
But honestly, I am facing the facts and dealing with what this northern tundra has to give. At the moment, my husband's formerly lovely mint and basil are sadly browning in the front window and our waist-high rhubarb is frozen tight beneath a blanket of snow.
As well, I heard that is closing its doors on Jan. 28, despite an award-winning renovation of a 1950's gas station and a turtle sundae loving public. In 2004, proprietors Steve and Vicky Uhr created a hugely kid-friendly place that focused on tasty, simple custard. They serve up vanilla, chocolate and at least one rotating frozen custard flavor daily, plus sandwiches, soups, salads and coffee drinks.
So with the end of Liberty and the large accumulation of icy flakes on my mind, I was planning a dinner with friends who have two young daughters. And then, it came to me -- we would make our own ice cream, using the snow bounty around us.
Of course, I visited Liberty before choosing and devising a recipe. That way I could gauge the taste and mouthfeel of the custard, which has eggs in the mix to give it a creamy edge. As I sat in the nearly empty place, the old timey signs, games and red chairs seemed just perfect -- almost as good as my standard order of a small vanilla with pecans. It has the right mix of vanilla and salt from the roasted nuts. Word on the street is that the the owners tested a lot of pecans before choosing these particular ones.
Inspired by the flavor of Liberty, I marched home with a fresh resolve. I had put my largest metal pot out on the patio to catch the fresh snow and it was looking full. Then I had some reservations. Is it okay to eat snow that falls in the metro?
So I put the pot in the freezer while I emailed Renee Obrecht-Como, the Program Director for Health & Nutrition Programs at the Extension Center for Family Development at the University of Minnesota. She suggested that I watch this video, courtesy of the University of Missouri Extension, which says a few times a year will probably be just fine.
My favorite of all the recipes I saw and tasted was from SUZYL on Allrecipes.com. Of course, it goes against the Extension's suggestion to avoid raw eggs. If you don't want to eat raw eggs, you can either heat the vanilla-milk-egg mixture over a double boiler gently, being sure not to cook the eggs (and straining the whole thing if any solids form). Or, you can leave the eggs out entirely.
Other recipes used plain milk, half and half or cream, but the creaminess of the canned milk to made the texture more to my liking. Paula Deen's recipe uses sweetened condensed milk, thereby eliminating the need for the sugar, but I'm a fan of adjusting the sweetness to my own taste.
And, if you don't have snow, you can use shaved ice or throw some ice in the blender and create your own flakes. It doesn't hold a candle to the creaminess of Liberty's, as it's more of a ice milk consistency (for those folks who remember that old fad). But the snow ice cream will evoke the fun, unadulterated joy of the custard joint on Nicollet. Oh, and the kids loved making it too!
Snow Ice Cream
Makes 4-6 servings
1 big bowl of snow (8-12 cups)
1 can (12 fluid ounces) evaporated milk
3/4 cup white sugar
1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Dash of salt
Place a medium bowl, a large spoon, an ice cream scooper and your serving bowls in the freezer.
Collect fresh snow in a clean large bowl, preferably as it is falling. Using a metal bowl will help it to stay cool. Place the bowl of snow in the freezer as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Beat the two eggs until fluffy in the cold medium-sized bowl. Add the evaporated milk, sugar and vanilla extract. Stir until all the sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth. Add dash of salt. (This is where you could gently heat the mixture to avoid eating raw eggs).
Dump half the mixture into the snow and stir. Check the consistency. If it is still fluffy, add more of the vanilla-egg-milk mixture. Continuing stirring. As the snow melts, the mixture will begin to hold its shape but have some creaminess to it.
Take care not to mix too much, or it will become soupy.
Variations and suggestions:
Add 1/4 cup of maple, chocolate or strawberry syrup to the vanilla mixture before stirring (or more as desired).
And my favorite topping -- Gently heat 1 tablespoon of honey and 1/4 teaspoon of butter for each serving in a double boiler or in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. Pour over the vanilla snow ice cream. Then sprinkle with sea salt.