There is nothing quite like home-made ice cream on a hot day. Ice cream was a popular treat on a hot summer’s day in 1906. Today we can pull a tub of commercially prepared ice cream from the freezer, go to the corner store for an ice cream bar, or make a trip to a specialty place for an ice cream cone. It was not quite so easy in 1906 when the Berlin Cook Book was published.
First you needed to cook the mixture which would be the base for ice cream. Then you needed some sort of ice cream freezer. Next the cooled mixture had to be put into the prepared ice cream freezer. This step required the purchase of rock salt and ice. Some farm families had their own ice house but most city people bought ice from an ice dealer when they needed it. Blocks of ice were for the ice box used to store dairy products and meat at home. The ice had to be crushed before using in the ice cream freezer. Once everything was prepared it took time and effort to keep turning the crank handle on the ice cream freezer.
Today I’ve drafted two children and their parents to make and then eat Vanilla Ice Cream made from a recipe Mrs. Geo. Potter contributed to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. I’ve been eyeing this recipe every hot day since I started this project last year. I was finally able to buy a reproduction hand cranked ice cream maker while attending the annual conference of the Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) in June. This wonderful practical gathering was held in Ohio this year, only an hours drive from Lehman’s Hardware store. Lehman’s carries many items still used by people who prefer to use manual rather than electric appliances. I’ve been searching for a hand cranked ice cream maker for several years. Many of the newer versions are very poor quality. I wanted a small freezer that I could use safely for many years. Mine is a one quart ice cream maker from a company called Country Freezer.
I started by thoroughly washing the ice cream freezer. It consists of a metal container with a lid and a paddle inside. This container fits inside a wooden bucket. A handle goes across the top and connects to the paddle inside the metal container. When the crank handle is turned it makes the paddle inside move and that combined with a mixture of salt and ice in the bucket surrounding the metal container cools and churns the liquid ice cream base making it cold, thick, and smooth.
My ice cream freezer is very small so I used half the quantities called for in Mrs. Potter’s recipe. It is always a good idea to read a recipe over before beginning and this is especially important when dealing with recipes written in an older style. Check below for the original recipe. You’ll see that certain steps need to happen first. If I hadn’t read the recipe over first, I would likely have a very messy pan and stove to clean. So instead of adding milk to a double boiler I began with the dry ingredients and a mixing bowl. I still managed to make a mistake when measuring the milk since I mixed up the number of cups in a pint and quart, something that didn’t happen when I was cooking 1906 style every day. Another measuring challenge can be whether to use the Imperial quart or the American quart. Although standardized measurements were becoming more common in 1906, English Canada remained a hodge podge of British and American influences. In Berlin Ontario German traditions were sometimes part of this mix.
I measured 1 1/2 cups of white granulated sugar, 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and 2 eggs in a bowl and beat them well. Then I stirred in the milk. The recipe mentions sweet milk which is just fresh milk rather than sour milk. In the days before pasteurization and homogenization, milk would eventually turn sour. I used 1 quart (4 cups) of regular 1% milk. One everything was well blended I poured it into the top pot of my double boiler. I kept the heat low at first and kept stirring. This mixture is essentially a custard and I have a very poor record for making custard. It usually curdles, lumps or burns. I tried to be very patient this time and kept stirring until it thickened. But how thick was thick? I decided to keep cooking until a spoonful stayed on the spoon. I poured the ice cream base back into a clean bowl and put it in my fridge to cool. A family in 1906 might cool it in a cellar or ice box or simply cover and leave to cool on the table (a riskier move on very hot day).
I forgot to purchase crushed ice from a nearby store but remembered to take all the other supplies to my friends’ house. Their neighbourhood existed in 1906 just like my home. After supper the children (age 6 and 9) and I got to work. Since I’d forgotten the ice, we used some ice cubes. The 9-year-old boy took care of putting the ice cubes in a bag and smashing them with a hammer on the back step just like children in 1906. The 6-year-old girl gathered some equipment for me. We poured two cups of whipping cream (35%) into the bowl of chilled custard. It was time to add the vanilla. We decided to start with 1 dessert spoon of pure vanilla extract. I stirred thoroughly and then the children and I tasted. They liked it but I decided it could use a little more vanilla. We added another dessertspoonful of extract. Now we agreed it was even better tasting. It was time to start freezing.
The ice cream maker came with excellent instructions. It is important to have the paddles/dasher in place before adding the liquid. I poured the ice cream “batter” into the metal container just until half full, then put on the lid and place it in the wooden bucket. I fitted the handle and gear mechanism to the top. We added the crushed ice to the space between the metal container and the inside wall of the bucket. Ideally the ice comes to the top of the metal can but we didn’t have enough ice. It came to about one quarter the way up. I decided to go ahead. The children practised turning the handle and then I added about 1/8 cup of pickling salt. Slowly I added a bit more until I’d used 1/5 of a cup. The proportion of ice to salt is five cups of ice to 1 cup of salt. This proportion is key to success.
It was time to make some ice cream. The children and I took turns cranking the handle on the one quart ice cream freezer. To avoid accidents we worked outside on the back steps. It took about 15 or 20 minutes of cranking until it became harder for the children to turn the handle. We checked and the ice cream had thickened. The ice and salt were now a liquid brine. Time to taste!
Mrs. Geo. Potter contributed quite few recipes to the cook book. Matilda Oberlander was born in Syracuse New York in 1868. Her father was a doctor and then became a Lutheran minister. At one time he was the minister for St. Peter’s Lutheran church in Berlin Ontario. Probably Matilda met her future husband George Potter through the church although the 1901 census shows he was Presbyterian while Matilda is Lutheran. He was born here and had a successful hardware store. They married sometime between the 1892 New York census that reports Matilda single and the 1897 birth of their son Alexander in Berlin Ontario. The 1901 Canadian census shows that Matilda had a 20-year-old servant named Edith Ballige to help with the home and care of three-year old Alexander.
In 1905, Matilda’s brother Frederick Oberlander became the minister of St. Peter’s church just like their father. Their younger sister Meda Oberlander came to keep house for him. Shortly afterwards I believe the two sisters decided to compile a cook book that became The Berlin Cook Book. I finally discovered that the cook book was only available for sale at St. Peter’s manse — where Meda lived and at Potter’s Hardware — a store belonging to Matilda’s husband’s. Three years after the Berlin Cook Book was published, Matilda and George Potter had a daughter Virginia.
Time to taste Mrs. Potter’s ice cream! I rinsed the salty brine off the outside of the metal container before opening. After removing the dasher and letting the children swipe their fingers along it for a taste, we dished up servings of soft ice cream for everyone. It was a big hit. The children were great helpers and everyone had two helpings of the ice cream. The container was even scraped clean for every last bit of ice cream. This type of custard is the base for many ice cream recipes at the turn of the twentieth century and can still be found in some versions of ice cream. One adult grew up in Belfast and said this ice cream tasted like a special type served at one particular ice cream shop when he was a child. When asked for their opinion of Mrs. Potter’s Vanilla Ice Cream every taster said “Yum” and made very happy noises.
It was good fun making ice cream with my helpers and I highly recommend trying it yourself. I still have lots of ice cream base left so I’ll be making more this week. Next time I’ll make sure I have enough ice as I think the result will be even better. Modern cooks could use this recipe as a base to add other flavours, fruit, or even real vanilla bean. There are a number of ice cream makers available or you can try putting the mix in a plastic bag and then putting it in another bag filled with ice and salt. Keep shaking the bag until the ice cream hardens. You could also just freeze the mixture in your freezer. Try taking it out every so often and stirring. However, if you have access to an old style ice cream freezer, pull it out on a hot day and make this ice cream.
VANILLA ICE CREAM
Mrs. Geo. Potter
Place in a double boiler 2 quarts of sweet milk, mixed with 3 cups sugar 1/2 cup flour, 4 eggs, beat the sugar, flour, eggs, together before you mix with the milk. When this thickens take off and let cool. When cold add 1 quart sweet cream and vanilla to taste. Freeze.