January 16, 2017

Lessons From the Churn

by Malinda Dunlap Fillingim

The young boy at the ice cream store eagerly requested a large portion of ice cream on a fancy waffle cone. His mother said he could get a small cone, not the large one he requested. After a few minutes of whining, the mother relented and gave him the double scooped cone of chocolate ice cream, which he tossed aside after two bites, denouncing it as “Yuk.”

His second cone, also a big one, was thrown aside declared by him as too vanilla. I tried not to judge. Lord knows I was not a perfect mother, a fact my daughters will confirm.

The young mother was exasperated with her son who now demanded a third cone. She had already thrown away about ten dollars of ice cream. Would she throw away more money?

Finally, she took the boy home, him kicking her the entire way. I sat my cup of strawberry ice cream down and clapped. Bravo!


My ice cream eating partner and I read each other’s thought: This child has no connection to the land, no appreciation for special treats, no recognition of how that ice cream was made, the work and effort that went into it getting into his little hands, and this mother is worn out trying to be her child’s friend, not his parent.

The two of us sat finishing up our ice cream and talking about how we both spent hours in the strawberry field, kneeling and picking, sorting and carefully placing the red berries that would become jams, pies, or a major ingredient in homemade ice cream. This boy had no investment in his ice cream, no sweat poured into making his frozen confectionery. He did not appreciate his ice cream because he only withdrew from his food bank, never making a deposit.

Sure, it was hard work making ice cream, but it was hard work shared by those you loved, transforming it from work to acts of fellowship.

My childhood memories of making ice cream are many. Everyone gathered on the porch, under a tree, or wherever there was a breeze or shade. We sat a spell trying to out-complain one another about who worked hardest and the day’s news, with older adults tempting and teasing the children with comments about whether or not we’d make some ‘cream. When the ice cream making process began, I collected the ice. I always had to fight with the silver ice tray to get the ice, it sticking to itself and refusing to let loose. My brother gathered the sugar and salt, and my sister gathered the cream, while my mother got whatever we had to put in the cream. I preferred strawberry ice cream, although I never refused any flavor, even those invented by children with wild imaginations.

We fetched the old hand cranked churn and placed each item in its place, an order that had no written direction, just oral guidance from an older relative. Me being the youngest, I got to turn the crank first until my brother said I had done enough. We all took turns, no matter the age, even our mother, even an old uncle who was born in the nineteenth century. If you didn’t turn the crank, you didn’t eat the ice cream; unless you were company or the preacher who seemed to always know when we were making ice cream.

Sometimes we’d mash the strawberries before adding, making it a soft pink color, sometimes we just made vanilla ice cream and added toppings later. The thing I remember liking the most about making ice cream, other than the actual ice cream itself, was spending time together, anticipating a special treat, knowing how to value the food and the hands that went into making it. We were connected to one another, to the land, and to this ritual that fed us more than what our stomachs could hold.

Nothing was ever wasted. You got what you wanted, nothing more; nothing less, usually about a cup per person, with my brother licking all the things inside our old churn, what we called the dasher part.

This little boy will never know the pride in making good ice cream. He will miss out on having sweat pour down his brow while cranking it one more time and then waiting for it to freeze. He lives in a land of instant gratification that may leave him empty and hungry for something that can’t be found in a cone: appreciation of family, of food that you helped create with your own hands, knowing that not everyone has this gift of food, eating instead out of trash cans.

I hope his mother will think of this the next time she finds herself facing a whining child devaluing food. Life is not about what we toss, but what we hold and value in our hearts, the things that cannot be thrown away.

Here is the ice cream recipe I remember as a child. Each churn is different, so be careful for this one may not work for you. There are many variable in making ice cream in an old churn. You can add various things to make different flavors. Depending on the season, we added strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and sometimes pecans. My brother added different wild berries that we called mixed up ice cream. Vanilla was the favorite of most though, plain and simple, just like us.

Vanilla/Strawberry Ice Cream

1 pint of heavy cream
1 pint of light cream
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla flavor
Dash salt
Mashed strawberries (or other fruit/pecans) to taste

Ice and salt to pack outside-follow instructions for your churn, as each one is different.


Malinda-FillingimMalinda Dunlap Fillingim had the good fortune to move to her step-father’s hometown, Walnut Cove, NC when she was in eighth grade. Curious by nature, Malinda asked Mama Dunlap so many questions about her cooking that she finally gave up some of the old recipes she carried in her head. Malinda is an ESL teacher at Cape Fear Community College and lives in Leland with her husband.


Speak Your Mind