2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 cups sugar
juice from two lemons
ripe peaches, in small chunks
a summer morning
change’s loss and new beginnings
four generations who tasted this ice cream as children
memories, stories of peonies, farmhouse verandas, bedtime books, the softness of beagle ears, mown pastures, mourning dove song
antique green glass bowls
a new friend
a well used ice-cream maker
a summer dusk
Begin as a child on a summer day. On the way home from visiting your grandmother, use a pinch of patience when your mother stops at a roadside stand in Davies County farmland. Help her choose a bagful of peaches by pushing your thumb, like she shows you, into each peach’s red-amber fur to see if it is soft and ripe. Listen to her story of doing the same thing with her mother when she was a child and her promise of making you something magic, something you’ve never had before, your great-grandmother’s homemade peach ice cream.
At home, become lost in play, riding bikes up the driveway, or pretending the shag bark hickory shade is a pioneer’s log cabin where you and your sister rock babies in cradles. Come inside, hungry and thirsty. The old electric ice-cream maker is almost done churning. When it stops, lick the soft creaminess from the beater your mother offers and ask for more. Use more patience when she says the ice cream must harden in the freezer.
Melt into the summer afternoon, forgetting your impatience, your longing, even time itself, becoming part breeze, sweat, dream, dog, sun, sprinkler, wet grass, cloud, ant, story, and changing light until dinner time. Eat something ordinary, disappointing, something you’ve had many times – lima beans, mac-and-cheese, or corned-beef hash from a can with fried egg on top. After dinner, take a bath and put on your cotton pajamas, then come out into the dusk on the porch, yawning. Your mother will bring you a bowl of the forgotten ice cream, made – like she promised – from her grandmother’s recipe.
Take your first bite. As it coats your mouth with tart softness that lingers, your mother will say what you are thinking, “It tastes like summer, doesn’t it?”
Nod your head tasting peonies and twilight and dew, tomorrow’s questions and yesterday’s thunder in each spoonful. Fall asleep with your mother’s stories of churning this ice cream by hand, the old fashioned way, of her grandmother who woke the whole house in the middle of one summer night when the circus came through town.
Repeat this recipe, summer after summer, when you are four, five, seven, until you are a teen, and things happen, everyone is busy, the ice-cream maker breaks and you don’t think about what used to be because there is so much future to meet. College, travel, new tastes, new cities, plans never to return to the Midwest until, years later, you return anyway, looking for what might endure, after so much change, the kind that leaves you no longer child, though you don’t feel grown-up.
One day, after you are married and a mother of a little girl, this recipe will arrive in the mail, sent unasked for by your sister, who, with the homesickness of one who never returned, got the recipe from your mother.
You don’t own an ice cream maker, so you buy one. The first time you make the recipe with hard supermarket peaches and no one who listens to your stories, you taste more sadness than sweetness in it. But try again, next summer and the next, telling your growing daughter about how, decades ago, the cream and milk for this recipe came from cows on your mother’s family farm, and then later, when you were a girl, from the milk truck that delivered milk in glass bottles each week. About buying peaches from the roadside stand. About mourning doves, the evening porch, the midnight circus.
A June will come when your daughter asks for you to make this recipe, and you tell her to be patient, the peaches are not ripe. And then later, in August, family will come visiting from Davies County, and they will bring bags overflowing with large gold-red peaches bought at a roadside stand. So ripe that you, your daughter, her grandparents stand at the kitchen sink to eat the peaches because their juice spills between fingers, runs down arms, drips from chins and no one wants to stop and wipe the juice away. You just want to take one liquid bite after the next.
That morning, buy organic milk and cream from a nearby dairy. And then pull the ice-cream maker (your second because you wore out the first in summers past) from the hard-to-reach top kitchen shelf. Combine milk, cream, lemon juice, sugar in the metal canister. Surround it with ice and rock salt. Start the electric mixer going. When the ice cream is so thick that the beater can’t churn, take out the beater and share it with your daughter, licking the cold sweetness from it. Spoon the ice cream into a plastic container, folding into it small chunks of just harvested Indiana peaches. Put the ice cream into the freezer to harden. Wait impatiently until dusk.
Invite over a friend you’ve never shared this recipe with. Serve your family, your friend, a large scoop in your great-grandmother’s delicate green glass bowls. Watch their faces as the ice cream melts in their mouths. See your daughter watching everyone too. Let her say the words. The words your mother said to you. The words you’ve said to your daughter with the first spoonful each year. The words that are hers now, part of the magic she is inheriting: It tastes like summer, doesn’t it?
Written by Liza Hyatt