I Scream

July 18, 2010

Summer time is the time for ice cream, I think. We’ve been making the rounds. Yesterday we were at the MSU Dairy store, where Diane opted for the dreamsicle milkshake (i.e. a milkshake made from dairy store orange sherbet,) while I went for the single dip of peach ice cream. The MSU Dairy Store is a much loved local institution, probably ranking second only to Tom Izzo in terms of generating warm feelings in the Lansing area for Michigan State University. Diane, however, is not really all that impressed with the ingredients list in MSU ice cream. I will say as a food ethicist that it is not really that bad, using only a few extras like guar gum. Guar gum comes from guar beans and it is used as a thickening agent, like corn starch. You don’t really have to have a thickening agent to make good ice cream, however, and Diane says “Fie to you, guar gum!”

Our daughter came into town on Friday evening, though she had a grueling experience losing her bag on the flight. We took her to Pablo’s in Old Town to cheer all of us up, which meant a walk across the street to the Arctic Corner. Arctic Corner has my vote for the best summer ice cream this year. It’s been a perfect consistency every time I’ve tried it and I actually prefer soft serve that is a bit less creamy and sweet over the putatively more premium mixes. I’m planning on heading over there later this week to celebrate my 59th birthday by having my annual banana split. As many of you know, this location at Grand River and Center St. was down for a couple of years. Rumor had it that it was an internal family dispute. Whatever. I’m glad they’re back. Arctic Corner has taken over from our usual Westside summer hang-out, the Frosty Corner on MLK. I don’t like the mix that Frosty Corner is using now as well as their old stuff, though the old guy inside (who I assume owns the place) likes to brag about the quality. No accounting for taste, I guess.

This afternoon we followed up a visit to the Kresge Art Museum on the MSU Campus with a stop at the new location of Tasty Twist. Tasty Twist has long had the reputation for “best soft serve” in the area, though we are such wimps that we usually don’t want to drive all the way to East Lansing to get ice cream. If you don’t know the story of Tasty Twist, it’s a good lesson in food ethics. I don’t know how long they had been at their funky little classic-style soft serve ice cream stand location on Grand River, but last year they were told they would need to vacate by the owner, only to discover a new business moving in with the name “Tasty Treat” and looking very much like the old Tasty Twist with the same blue awning etc. As a food ethicist, you will not see me frequenting Tasty Treat, so I have no idea how good their ice cream is. In fact, I suspect that Tasty Twist probably has pretty good grounds for a lawsuit against Tasty Treat, as theft of “trade dress”—the thematic colors and appearance of a successful retail operation—can be challenged under intellectual property law. It’s considered to be false advertising. Check out “Lanham Act” on Wikipedia if you care to have a look.

The solution in East Lansing has not thus far gotten the lawyers involved. There is a Facebook page to inform people where they should really be going for their summer ice cream, as Tasty Twist has moved down Grand River a block or so and is now occupying a spot in one of those low-rent down at the heel strip malls. This is the one next door to Bell’s Greek Pizza. There is plenty of parking, but frankly it doesn’t have the ambiance of the old locale. I hope they do okay there, but it just steams me to see a really good local food operation get the kind of treatment that Tasty Twist got. The ice cream is still great. I had a strawberry sundae. Go down there and buy a banana split if you live in East Lansing.

But what I really wanted to talk about was home-made ice cream. My Grandaddy Thompson used to go down to the ice company in Springfield, MO and get this old beat up green insulated 5 gallon bucket filled with chipped ice. I think it was free for the asking, but I don’t really know. He would bring it back home and then stir up a fantastic mix of homemade vanilla. We would turn the freezer by hand with a crank, and the ice was so chunky that it usually took one person to hold the freezer down, a second to turn the crank, and a third to add rock salt and more ice chunks. I don’t remember his recipe, but I do remember my Dad’s. He would break a dozen raw eggs into a bowl, and stir in two cups of sugar as he beat the eggs very lightly. Then he would add two tablespoons of vanilla extract, stir and pour the whole thing into the freezer drum. He would swish out the bowl (always coated with a thick egg-sugar mix) with some whole milk, then he would fill the drum almost to the top with whole milk. Four ingredients and no actual cream. Because he filled the drum so full, there was very little room for the mixture to expand as it froze, so it would take forever for that stuff to turn into anything solid enough to eat. And it would start to melt as soon as it came out. Eventually the leavings would go to the freezer inside, where they would take on the consistency of a popsicle: crystallized frozen milk. However, the stuff tasted great. We loved it and I’ll have to find an excuse for making some ice cream right away just thinking about this. I use a fewer eggs (like four instead of 12), about half the sugar and I leave a good three inches for expansion. Sometimes I’ll use some heavy cream, too, but you really don’t need it. And I’ve been known to make decent strawberry and peach ice cream, myself. But I’m still down with the raw eggs.

As a food ethicist, I can’t really recommend this. Eggs can become contaminated with salmonella, and there is very little beyond cooking the egg slightly that can be done about it. Once or twice a year, I’m willing to take that risk. My Dad’s recipe, however, is heart stopping.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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