Growing up in the Ice Cream Truck era, I didn’t associate the frozen delicacy with patience. In fact, to my truck-chasing child mind, ice cream meant instant gratification, provided I had a buck in my sock. But making homemade ice cream fit for a sustainable rancher’s strict low-carbon diet requires what even the patient would call patience. In my case, several years’ worth.
First, I peeled back two entire calendars, waiting for Natalie, the tiny goat kid I got off Craigslist, to produce milk. That was the bearable part of the wait, because Natalie, her sister Melissa, and now Natalie’s daughter Nico (all named after singers I like but think sound a little goat-like—Natalie Merchant, Melissa Etheridge and the Velvet Underground’s Nico) have been such pleasurable additions to the family. Like last week, when Natalie crept in through the dog door and made herself at home with some lettuce I had left within reach on the counter.
But the real trial in my 38-year wait for homemade ice cream was without question that last four-hour block, spent dealing with an ice cream maker a friend had loaned me. Like the Griswalds on their never-ending trip to Wallyworld in the first National Lampoon’s Vacation movie, there seemed always one more step to take before I’d reach my decadent destination. I needed, for example, to chill the inner chamber of the ice cream maker (the freezer can) for several hours (eons!) to prevent plutonium ice cream rocks. This I learned to my dread when I Googled “best organic goat ice cream recipes.” The warning was clear: Unchilled machinery results in petrified ice cream.
After a while, the delay even began to take its toll on innocent civilians. My hiking friend KB, for example, went home unsatiated after a grueling trek, when it turned out my promise of post-hike strawberry ice cream was an embarrassing false alarm. Age the goat milk, for crying out loud? Scald the sweetened mixture? But the multitudinous virtual recipes I cross-referenced did corroborate one another.
Ice cream is not only a food group for me, it’s also a hugely important symbol of the good life, lived sustainably. It’s the explicit reason I became an organic goat herder (to the detriment of nearly any other activity in my life). I wanted to prove that one needn’t eat only dirt outside one’s remote cabin in order to keep the old carbon footprint low. So I shifted my ice cream base of operations from the Ben and Jerry’s factory 2,400 miles away to right here on the Ranch. OK, the vanilla I used in the recipe came from Old Mexico, just south of my New Mexico home, and I’m considering using some local honey to sweeten the mixture in future. But even the eggs in the custard-style ice cream recipe were from my Funky Butte Ranch chickens, laid that very morning. That first batch was about as low in carbon miles as ice cream can get. Even the freezer that made the ice is solar-powered.
The verdict, according to the taste buds that have eaten an average of 1.6 bowls of ice cream per day, every day of my life? Truth be told, it was a bit watery in the middle. I’d had some last-minute technical difficulties due to my inexperience with the ice cream maker and lack of advanced degrees in molecular chemistry (necessary to balance the ice/rock salt ratio). Also, I’m not an electrical engineer (the plug had a short).
But the taste? I say this not just because the milk came from Natalie, who I’ve raised since before she was weaned. Not just because I am a sugar addict. And, truly, not just because my favorite dessert will now finally and forevermore be guilt-free (except for calories): This week’s strawberry ice cream was best tasting bowl I’ve ever had, bar none. Better than Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked, and even Breyers Chocolate. I sat in bed and ate the first two bowls out of my favorite dish—the one with the monkeys on it. Full disclosure: I spilled a lot of it on the bed, which resulted in ant nightmares all night. It was worth it. Nothing could ruin this genuine triumph, a life milestone for me.
A lot of time, love, and work went into that first (nearly) carbon-free bite of Funky Butte Ranch Organic Strawberry Ice Cream. Nathalie’s daily milking alone has made my wrists muscular to the point that they would raise the suspicion of Olympic doping testers. But you know what? Almost no carbon miles went into the whole process. And maybe by next year my peach trees will have matured enough that I’ll be able to try peach ice cream. Never have I meant it more literally when I say, sweet.
Story by Doug Fine. Doug Fine lives on a nearly carbon-neutral ranch, and is the author of Farewell, My Subaru. A blog recounting his carbon-neutral misadventures can be found at: www.dougfine.com. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in July 2008.