I have many memories of watching my mother make the vanilla homemade ice cream that is a signature Southern dish. It requires only a few ingredients to make the custard base, but it takes patience and careful stirring on the stove to make the egg, sugar, evaporated milk and vanilla come together in a rich liquid just thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.

So many times, I begged for a sip of the warm mixture. My mom would indulge me with a spoonful of the stuff warning me that too much would give me a stomach ache. She’d cool it in the freezer until time to churn the custard. Using the bucket-styled old-fashioned electric freezer, she’d pack the outer rim with ice sprinkled with rock salt to make it stay extra cold, and then pour the chilled custard into a chilled cylinder fitted with something called a dasher that would agitate the liquid much like a washing machine. When the machine slowed down — a sign the ice cream was ready — my mother would ladle out the creamy soft serve that would make my taste buds dance. Mother got the recipe from my grandmother whose old-fashioned freezer was even more old-fashioned because she had to hand crank it. I mastered custard-making years ago, and I’ve treated many of my friends to this otherworldly deliciousness.

I’m sure my early homemade ice cream experience is the big reason I’ve loved ice cream all my life. I do enjoy fine chocolate and/or handcrafted pie (including my beloved Key Lime Pie), but, for me, nothing is tastier than a scoop of ice cream. So, July — National Ice Cream Month, in which the third Sunday is celebrated as National Ice Cream Day — is one of my favorite times of the year.

But, if my Southern roots fed my original ice cream passion, living in New England has stoked my adult obsession. Not only are New Englanders year-round ice cream enthusiasts, but this is the region where the ice cream innovators who founded Steve’s Ice Cream and Ben and Jerry’s launched their brands. Fun facts: Senator Ed Markey was an ice cream truck driver while in college. And former State Treasurer Steve Grossman is a walking New England ice cream travel guide who’s sampled ice cream from shops and farms across the state.

In New England, most specialty shop ice cream is homemade. The island of Martha’s Vineyard alone has more than a dozen ice cream shops offering homemade ice cream. Off island, Food and Wine magazine recently singled out two popular ice cream shops, both in Cambridge: Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream and Toscanini's. Toscanini's owner Gus Rancatore wrote a 2006 book about his history of running the store and revealed the excitement of his staff when the Dalai Lama and his saffron-robed entourage dropped in for a scoop. In case you’re wondering, the Tibetan Buddhist leader ordered a chocolate cone. That’s added proof for me that eating really good ice cream can be a spiritual experience.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, American ice cream makers “churned out 1.3 billion gallons of ice cream” in 2021, plenty for the 4 gallons of the creamy dessert the average American gobbles up each year. As someone wise once said, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream and that’s pretty much the same thing.” Happy National Ice Cream Month!