National Ice Cream Month may be over, but there's still plenty of blazing hot days left this summer, which means there’s still plenty of time to indulge in summer’s favorite treat. Besides, here in New England we definitely don’t need any excuses to eat more ice cream. As of 2015, Rhode Island ranked 2nd in the U.S. for ice cream consumption, trailing only Washington DC. Massachusetts came in 4th, Connecticut was 6th, and New Hampshire came in 9th. 40% of the top 10? Not bad, New England!
We sure do love our ice cream, and it makes sense. Summer in the northeast is short, so we capitalize on the best of it, getting all we can of the sunshine, beaches, and cool creamy treats. Plus, isn’t not hard to argue that we make some of the best ice cream in the country. Dan Andelman of the Phantom Gourmet aptly told CBS News in 2010, "New England just does some things better than anyone else. We do clam chowder better. Our baseball team is superior. And we have the best ice cream in the country, period."
There are countless places to get your scoop of cookie dough, coffee Oreo, or any of the popular flavors we all love. But this time of year, it’s especially fun to seek out the places making locally inspired, seasonal flavors. Try the basil ice cream at Christina’s, or the strawberry ice cream at Toscanini’s. You’ll have to wait until next spring for one of the best seasonal ice creams around – the fresh strawberry rhubarb ice cream at J.P. Licks. It’s made with such fresh, local ingredients that its availability is as short-lived as strawberry season in New England, so be sure to look out for it next spring! (Their current seasonal flavor is peach, which is also delicious.)
In August, the crop of the moment is blueberries. I recently drove up to Pepperell, MA to do some blueberry picking at Kimball Fruit Farm (not the ice cream makers). The hot summer day easily led to a serious ice cream craving, and I found Dr. Davis Ice Cream right down the road — a shop that’s been making ice cream at this spot since 1939. They pride themselves on making all of their ice cream on site, just the way Dr. Davis did almost 80 years ago, and the commitment shows. I sampled a lot of flavors, and they were all outstanding, but the definitive winner for my order was the seasonal blueberry ice cream made with fresh local blueberries. The flavor was so clean and pure. Since I can’t drive that far for ice cream all the time, I was inspired to take this idea home, along with my haul of fresh-picked blueberries, and make my own.
Ice cream really isn’t difficult to make. It doesn’t even take that much active time. It just takes a little advanced preparation (putting the ice cream-making element into the freezer a day in advance) and a little patience (waiting for the churning and freezing). Although ice-cream-making resembles cooking, it’s actually a lot closer to baking because it requires the same precision and attention to detail that baking does. At least, that is, until you’ve mastered the basic technique. Then you can play and get creative. This base recipe is a good start for homemade ice cream. The buttermilk gives this ice cream base a very slight tang (think fro-yo), but you can replace it with whole milk for a more neutral flavor. It’ll be a little heavier. Don’t replace the milk with a lower fat variety or your ice cream will be too icy. You can use the fruit cooking technique with a variety of fruits (think, black raspberry or blackberry). The goal is to reduce the water content of the fruit before adding it to the ice cream.
Blueberry-Buttermilk Ice Cream
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup buttermilk, chilled
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Be sure to chill your ice cream making element, according to manufacturer instructions, in advance of starting to make ice cream. This recipe makes about 6 cups of ice cream.
- Combine the blueberries and water in a small saucepan. Stir in ¼ cup sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until berries burst, mashing gently if necessary, until most of the liquid has evaporated, and mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Whisk egg yolks in medium metal bowl; set aside. Place cold buttermilk into chilled metal bowl and refrigerate.
- Combine heavy cream, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt in medium saucepan, whisking until sugar dissolves, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as mixture simmers, gradually whisk half of hot cream into egg yolks. Return egg mixture to saucepan and stir constantly over medium-low heat until mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes (do not boil). Thickened mixture should coat the back of a spoon.
- Strain warm custard mixture into chilled buttermilk. (The straining is very important, in case any of your egg proteins got a little too hot and curdled. It’s no big deal, but the staining will get rid of them.) Whisk vanilla extract into cream mixture. Chill mixture until cold, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.
- Process chilled mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions, adding blueberry mixture after the first 5 minutes of churning. Transfer to freezer container(s), cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight.