There are times in the South, round about August, that are oppressively hot. Not just a little hot, but take-your-breath-away hot. So hot that walking down the sidewalk feels a bit like walking in a rotisserie oven, with waves of undulating heat cooking up through the soles of your feet. So hot that shade gives no relief and the whispers of wind that blow through might as well be hot gusts escaping from the devil’s furnace.
Folks talk about how Southerners ought to be used to the heat, but there’s no really getting used to that kind of oppression. Many, many people now have air conditioning, and, if anything, we’re more susceptible to the ravages of baking in the Southern summer heat. However, when I was a little girl, my grandparents didn’t have central air conditioning. We’d sit on the porch at dusk after supper, or the adults would sit and rock while my sister, my cousins and I would play in the yard.
Sometimes, when the heat was exceptionally miserable, my grandmother would tell my grandfather to pull out the old-fashioned electric ice cream churn. She’d return to the kitchen, where she would pull out from the refrigerator a bowl of custard that she’d made that morning, before the heat of the day. My grandfather would layer the outer cylinder with ice and rock salt, then pour the sweet, thick, creamy peach liquid into a stainless-steel central cylinder with a white paddle. He’d seal it tight and place it on a stack of newspapers to soak up the condensation. Whrr-whrr-whrr the machine would turn.
I remember sneaking a piece of salt and sucking on it as we impatiently ran about and played kick the can. Soon — but never soon enough — the whirring would slow and the machine would groan, the paper underneath soaked solid gray with water. My grandfather would patiently unharness the cylinder and take it to the kitchen, where my grandmother would carefully clean it so as not to sully the sweet peach ice cream with salty ice. She’d prudently clean the paddle and pass it to a nearby small child with open hands and open mouth to lick. She’d then scoop the pale coral-colored treat into bowls, and we’’d parade back out onto the porch to share sweet ice cream with cookies and make even sweeter memories.
I hope you try this recipe and create some of your own.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.