The fourth of July and strawberry ice cream make the perfect duo. It’s the day before my birthday, too, and for many years I celebrated in a remote house on Cape Cod. Surrounded by beach, the house was built in 1880 and has been in my family since the 1930s when my grandmother bought it.
To get there, we drove an old Jeep down a mile-long sandy road, past wild roses and beach plums, through sand dunes and sea grass. Spending summers in isolation and beauty, with no television, phones, or electricity was like camping out, which also meant we never had ice cream on the fourth of July, or for my birthday.
My grandmother was a gardener, and everything I love about growing plants and preparing food can be traced back to her. Even now that she is gone, the beach road and the smell of the roses bring back her memory, a reminder of her generation that belonged to a different era, when gardening and cooking was simply a way of life.
Cooking was uncomplicated, supplemented by wholesome, homegrown ingredients often seasoned with culinary herbs, served in courses to stretch out family time around the table. Bottled milk, cream, and eggs were delivered twice a week, and ice cream was reserved for special occasions.
When I think back to my birthdays on Cape Cod, the long languishing days on the beach or watching the wind billow in the sails as we glided smoothly out of the harbor to an endless sea, it was a pure luxury of time compared to my current tightly scheduled, achievement-driven, demanding days. Today, after I finish this post, I’ll most likely spend the rest of the afternoon in the garden deadheading, weeding, and edging the flower borders.
The Heirloom Kitchen Garden
The new book I am writing features some of the vintage plants from my grandmother’s era: heirloom roses, lilacs, and citrus-scented Mock Orange. I am learning about old favorites that once thrived around my own historic 1905 house in Vermont, and planting them as a way to keep the links or the past alive. What’s most exciting are the plant volunteers that pop up unplanned, or the small shards of blue and white pottery that emerge as I dig. Writing is always a discovery process, and I am learning to appreciate the past in a new way, tapping into the past to bring it forward to the future.
Holidays trigger memories and sitting on my porch, I have a picture in my mind from 100 years ago, when my house was brand new. I can almost hear the the bustle of women in long skirts swishing down the stairs, on their way to the parade on main street, rushing past the pink roses and orange day lilies that are in bloom on this same day, and afterwards, they will sit on the porch of the nearby Equinox Hotel with a bowl of Wilcox strawberry ice cream, served only on Sundays, or on special days like today.
Old Fashioned Strawberry Ice Cream
Makes 3 pints
1 pint fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
In a medium bowl, place strawberry, sugar, and lemon juice. Mash with a potato masher or back of a spoon to release juices. Let sit while making custard.
Ice Cream Custard
2 egg yolks
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
pinch of salt
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and set aside.
In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, and salt. Once it starts to simmer, remove from the heat, cool for 3 minutes, then gradually add the yolks, whisking in between each addition. Pour the mixture back into the pan and heat to 180°F., whisking constantly. This will only take a minute or two.
Pour the custard through a strainer, cool, and refrigerate custard until well-chilled, for several hours.
When ready to make, pour custard into the container of an ice cream maker and stir in the sweetened strawberries. Turn on an churn for 15 minutes, or until thickened. Transfer to a glass jar or bowl, and freeze ice cream for at least an hour or until ready to serve.