Ice cream season is upon us, y’all. My family and I have spent the past week at Salem Campground, our home away from home. Camp meeting is a time for getting reacquainted with friends you haven’t seen in a year or so, for studying God’s word, for old-time Gospel music accompanied by stem-winding preaching and enormous caloric intake, several times a day.
And at our tent, at least — picture a rustic cabin with tin roof and wood shavings on the floor — slap-your-mama good homemade ice cream, two flavors, every single night, after preaching, of course.
I enjoy all phases of camp meeting, from the morning devotionals until the bugle sounds taps at bedtime. The worship services are the centerpiece of the week, but I do look forward to the delicious frozen treats every evening.
When I first married into the Cowan tent at Salem my wife’s grandfather, John Cowan, was in charge of making the ice cream. Everyone called him “George,” because he called everyone he met “George.” George would use just the right combination of rock salt and ice to guarantee a quick and proper freezing of the marvelous mixture inside the churn. He would then pack it down in more rock salt and ice and he would usually stay at the tent during evening services to make sure no malefactors tried to sneak into the kitchen and open the ice cream early.
After George passed away, the task of making the ice cream was shared by a number of people in our tent — my wife’s aunt, Renee and her uncle, Jerry, my father-in-law, and my lovely wife, Lisa. For years, I took a turn on a regular basis. As of late the title of chief ice cream maker has fallen to my son Jackson more often than not. His older sister, Jamie Leigh, has become his chief consultant regarding flavors and quality control. They have put out some really good flavors of ice cream over the past few years. This year, for example, we enjoyed Oreo ice cream one night and apple pie ice cream another. Both were smash hits. Other years, we have dabbled with coconut ice cream, buttered pecan and a few flavors not worth remembering. Our staples, however, remain constant, year after year after year. Vanilla, chocolate, banana, strawberry, lime sherbet, and the king of all ice cream flavors — peach.
I guarantee you, our peach ice cream is as good as anybody’s peach ice cream, anywhere. A few years ago the great Methodist preacher, John Ed Matheson, preached at Salem. About midweek he discovered that we had ice cream every night after services and his sermons immediately became 10 or 15 minutes shorter. He wasn’t a large man but I have seen him eat three cups of peach ice cream at a sitting, topped off by a cup of vanilla or chocolate for “dessert.”
I remember making ice cream when I was a kid and it was a rare treat reserved for one or two Saturday nights a summer. It was quite a to-do, back in those days. We would go to the ice house first. Yes, there was an ice house in Covington back in those days. The only thing they sold was ice. You could buy it crushed but it was a nickel cheaper if you bought it by the block. We were all about saving a nickel, so we would buy it by the block and then use a hammer and an ice pick to chip it up and crush it.
The churns were not electric back in those days; they were hand-cranked. Everyone who wanted to have a serving of ice cream when it was finished was expected to take a turn at turning the handle on the freezer. When I was little, I would always go first because when the ice cream began to harden the churn became harder and harder to turn. My daddy, or some other grown man, would always have to take over at the very end.
I will never forget the first time I froze a full freezer of ice cream all by myself. I thought my arm would fall off before I finished. Now, of course, we have electric freezers, but we still opt for the wooden buckets. I have learned that rock salt is the most inexpensive ingredient in the whole process, so we use an awful lot of rock salt over the course of the week.
The best part of having ice cream at one’s tent every night is that nothing attracts a crowd of good people like peach ice cream on a hot summer night. My friends and I have sat around solving the world’s problems many times over while enjoying homemade ice cream at Salem camp meeting.
Now I know what you are thinking. Why didn’t I publish this column last week, when there was still five or six chances to come down and join us? I suppose I should have. But go ahead and mark your calendars for next year. The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll be right there by the spring on Salem Road.
I’ll let you know which nights we are having peach.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at darrellhuckaby.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.