Caribbean Beat Magazine

The churn

Tracy Assing tries to make homemade ice cream but after hours of churning ends up with sweet foam

  • Tracy`s brother Che at the churn. Photograph by Tracy Assing
  • Photograph by Tracy Assing

My family has always had a great relationship with ice cream.

It might have something to do with our tropical weather, but I’ve answered the call of ice cream while bracing 12-degree temperatures in London.

In my family ice cream isn’t just part of a celebration, it was very often the cause.

My dad’s mother worked for a company called Canning’s, and in the 80s they produced ice cream and soft drinks. Most month-end Fridays, until she got too sick to work at the factory, my grandmother would come home with tubs of ice cream or ice lollies.

Then my great-aunt Elsa bought a manual ice-cream churner. We gathered around and inspected it in wonder. We’d never really seen ice cream being made. We fought each other to turn the handle that spun the metal cylinder with the precious cream in it. We battled over who would top up the melting ice. We argued over the amount of salt to be sprinkled over the ice to keep it hard.

Making ice cream required patience and some sweat, but together we could make it happen, and there were broad smiles all around when the churning was over. Ice cream was made and served on Sundays, at birthday parties and christenings, for Christmas and Les Rois [the celebration of Epiphany on January 6, which marks the end of the Christmas season]. Great-aunts Mary and Joyce got their own churns.

These memories made me splurge on my own ice cream churn this year. I was in Chaguanas shopping for cheap camping equipment. Everyone knows you can find anything cheap in Chaguanas. It’s the bargain capital of Trinidad. I bought a lightweight sleeping bag which folded into a little pillow, three dozen glasses for my mother and a pack of three white T-shirts, all in the same store.

Then the churn caught my eye. The box said: Coco Freezer manual ice cream freezer. It was sitting in a corner of the dimly lit store, almost hidden by its electric cousins. It was the most expensive thing I bought that day, twice the price of an electric one (not sure why).

My brother supported my purchase totally. This was important, because he would be doing most of the churning.

We stopped at the grocery on the way home. I had no recollection of ice cream recipes, but I bought a couple of packets of instant custard, and some tins of condensed and evaporated milk. We mixed everything together, using all the ice in the fridge.

We started churning at two o’clock. Four hours later, we had eight litres of custard foam, which we distributed to unsuspecting friends and neighbours.

I became obsessed with getting it right, although this implied no active participation by me whatsoever. I was a calamity in the kitchen and I really only had the strength to turn the churn handle for five or ten minutes.

Mom asked Aunty Elsa for her recipe and two weeks later we tried again. Three hours later we had something. It tasted like it did in the old days…but it wasn’t as solid. Something was still not right.

A couple of weeks went by. Then, late one afternoon, as I walked through the front gate I heard raised voices and laughter. Music was playing. There were a dozen people in the back yard: an aunt, a cousin with her husband and two kids, three of Dad’s friends, three of my brother Che’s friends.

The churn was in action and I was given a glass right away. In one spoonful, I knew. This was the moment. It was creamy coconut. Dreamy coconut. The right texture. The right flavour.

Since then we’ve made Guinness and soursop-flavoured ice cream. Barbadine and pumpkin are next. Then maybe chennette, five finger, hibiscus, balata, plumrose, and sapodilla. The tastes of memories.