Backcountry Bistro: I Scream, You Scream
With Kathryn Miles
We all scream for ice cream. No other dessert holds quite the sway of a drippy, syrupy ice cream cone. Just about every town has a beloved ice cream parlor or soft-serve window, and I’ve known people willing to brawl over whether triple berry or chocolate mocha wins for best flavor.
For years, St. Louis has claimed birthrights to the cone, after an ice cream vendor famously ran out of dishes for his confection during a particularly busy day at the 1904 World’s Fair. An enterprising waffle maker came to the rescue, rolling up his fresh pastries into cones. No doubt, the success of both desserts skyrocketed after this blessed marriage. But ice cream historians (a sweet job if ever there was one) now speculate that the birth of the cone can be traced much deeper into history: back, in fact, to the late Eighteenth Century, when "iced puddings served in cornet wafers" were thought to improve digestion.
Undoubtedly, the cone—whether waffle, wafer, or otherwise—has made ice cream an enduring favorite around the world. But even without its cookie conical, ice cream continues to engender great love among young and old alike. I sometimes wonder if it’s the fleetingness of ice cream that makes it so irresistible: parlors are often only open a few months out of the year; families wait until vacation to trot out their ice cream makers; and once you are in possession of your very own cone or dish, it’s a race against time to consume the ice cream before it melts into a sugary puddle.
This ephemeral nature of ice cream is also what makes it appear so daunting for front-country chefs. Refrigeration—let alone sub-freezing temperatures—pose significant obstacles to most outdoor dessert recipes, and the long list of ingredients for most ice creams hardly seems worth the effort. Frozen confection lovers can now rejoice, however, thanks to recent innovations in outdoor gadgetry. Companies like L.L. Bean now sell ice cream balls: add your recipe on one side; a bag of ice and some salt on the other side; and after a 15-minute toss, you’re ready to eat soft-serve ice cream campside. If you’re not interested in going the commercial route, consider the old school way: a friend of mine reports that she used to make ice cream at summer camp by placing the ice cream ingredients into a sealed coffee can, then packing ice and rock salt around the can in a 5-gallon bucket with a lid (like the ones used to transport bulk food). Roll it around for a while, and viola!
When making ice cream at a campsite, keep in mind that temperature is key. Ingredients should be transported in a very cold cooler, and you’ll need at least one bag of ice to get the right consistency. Still, if you have the time, patience, and space for that many cubes, you’re in for a real treat.
What follows are both a hedonistic and virtuous ice cream recipe. Like all Backcountry Bistro recipes, they lend themselves to infinite variations and at least 31 flavors. Screaming, of course, is optional. But after you’ve seen the marvelous results from these recipes, you’ll probably want to give at least one hearty shout of joy.
Basic Ice Cream
1 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream
½ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Before you go, mix the yolks and sugar until it forms a thick paste. Add milk. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Let cool to room temperature, then add cream and vanilla, along with any add-ins (we like chopped peanut butter cups, berries, or a shot of Kahlua). Pour into a Nalgene and store in very cold refrigerator, then over ice, until you’re ready to make the ice cream at camp.
Vegan Ice Cream
½ block of tofu
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
½ cup sweetener
1 tsp vanilla
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and mix on high until very smooth. Add mashed bananas, carob chips, or crushed cereal. Transfer to Nalgene and keep well chilled.
Do you have a recipe you’d like to convert for the backcountry? Want ideas for haute cuisine that fits into a backpack? Contact No Umbrella’s backcountry chef Kathryn Miles (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
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