Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but I have to admit that homemade ice cream–the way I make it–is not likely to be found on the approved list of most weight-loss programs. On the list of Most Glorious Hot Weather Treats, though, it comes out pretty much on top.

When I was a kid, ice cream day was a real family affair. My sister and I would wake up early with a serious sense of anticipation. We wanted to be part of the whole process, from washing the container and the paddle to taking a turn at the handle of our Dixie Belle freezer.

In the early days, and I’m talking 1940s here, there were still some people who didn’t have electric refrigerators. Yes, really, even in suburban areas. The ice truck came down the street and those who wanted ice would go out and get a gigantic ice cube (maybe 25 pounds) in a gunny sack. You don’t remember gunny sacks, either? Oh, well.

On ice cream day, Sister and I would wait for the truck, sitting on the front porch with our eyes fixed on the end of the block so we could make sure the driver didn’t get past our house.

“He’s coming! Hurry up or the truck’ll be gone!”

Dad would rush out to pay the man. (He always made us think he rushed, anyway.) He’d carry the ice block to the back yard, where he wielded a hammer to smash it to bits. Sister and I got to take a few swings as well, then we were sent to the garage to ferret out the rock salt, which had been stored “somewhere out there” since the last ice cream adventure. Mom would gather the ingredients to mix up the wonderful concoction: eggs, sugar, cream, milk, lots of vanilla, and a pinch of salt to bring everything together. We didn’t precook the mixture. You expected your eggs and milk to be fresh, and everyone knew the finished product wouldn’t last long enough to spoil.

Once the creamy white liquid was poured into the canister and the clapper inserted, Daddy fiddled with the parts of the freezer until gears meshed and the fun could begin. Sister and I got to put the ice and rock salt into the wooden bucket, being oh-so-careful that every grain of salt landed on ice and not on the top of the can. We certainly didn’t want salty water to creep in and ruin our ice cream!

When the ice/salt layers reached the top of the bucket, the work started. Oh, it was fun at first. Round and round went the handle, which turned the mixing paddle. Fast at first–“take it easy, girls”–then a little slower as our arms got tired, and it wasn’t long before the turning chores got handed to the parents. We’d go off to play, coming back occasionally to take a turn or two at the crank or to check the salt-water drain for blockage.

“Is it done yet?”

“No, it’s going to take a while. Do you want to turn?” No, thanks.

“Is it done yet?”

“No, it’s going to take a while. Do you want to turn?” No, thanks.

“Is it done yet?”

“Almost. Do you want to turn?”

“Yes, yes, yes! Me first!”

One or two turns at that point, when the ice cream was getting firm, was enough for us. Dad could finish it off, but from that point on, we didn’t stray far from the activity. We knew that pretty soon the top of the freezer would get lifted off, the freezing water drained to a safe level, and the lid carefully pried from the canister. It was time!

The ice cream wasn’t ready to scoop into bowls, but the clapper needed to be pulled out and cleaned. We volunteered to take care of licking the perfect stuff from the vanes of the clapper, careful to salvage every drop that might think of falling to the ground. This was THE MOMENT, the preview of what we’d have in a whole dish later on, after the canister had been repacked with more ice and salt in the freezer and set aside to ripen for an hour or so.

It didn’t matter. The magic moment had come, and the ice cream had been proven perfect, as always. We could wait.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.