My family, like other American families, had a Labor Day tradition when I was growing up.
|Grape Nut Ice Cream by Kristin Taylor|
Similar to a recipe my mother used,
this healthy choice ice cream features
grape juice flavoring.
My mother used
fresh seasonal fruits to flavor her
homemade vanilla ice cream recipe.
The establishment of Labor Day as a U.S. national holiday and the invention of the ice cream cone make an interesting historical intersection.
Labor Day predates the American ice cream cone by a decade.
I've been working on this post for a while now, and thought I should get it out before Labor Day became a distant memory and summer had drifted down into autumn with the falling leaves.
Established in 1894 as a national American holiday commemorating American workers, Labor Day seems to have been hijacked by the general American public as a three-day weekend to party! For some, Labor Day marks the end of wearing white as part of our summer wardrobes for the remainder of the year.
When I was a little girl, I watched my mother fold all the white items in our wardrobe and pack them away on the Sunday before Labor Day. Why did we have to give up our favorite summer fashions because of a date on the calendar? I din't care what the calendar said, the weather was still hot in September and, besides, I liked my white shorts and shirts, now relegated to gym class. Anticipating the coming Monday, Labor Day, was also the last day of ice cream summer. I confess, Labor Day was not my favorite holiday, except for homemade ice cream.
|Green Tea Ice Cream|
|Vanilla Ice Cream|
Chocolate Syrup Topping
I loved my mother's homemade ice cream, flavored with fresh fruit, mint, powdered green tea or chocolate syrup.
The recipe that produced our end of summer treat wasn't my mother's recipe and she never claimed it as her own. It was a recipe that had been passed down through our family for many generations. My mother simply added her own twists to the summer delight and she liked to serve her homemade ice cream in homemade ice cream cones.
|Ice Cream Cone|
"I can stretch the ice cream farther serving it in cones," she said. "And cones are cheaper to make than ice cream."
My mother made her own ice cream cones from a recipe she found in a book from a second-hand store that also sold used furniture and other household goods that she sometimes purchased at very discounted prices if they were in good condition, but they, especially, had to be in good taste and in keeping with my mother's exquisite sense of decor and impeccable style.
|Agnes B. Marshall|
Inventor of Ice Cream Cone
Published in 1888
Some books my mother collected on various subjects said the ice cream cone was popularized in America at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, making ice cream cones 112 years old today. "Ice cream cones may have become known in America in 1904," my mother said, "But they have been around much longer in the rest of the world."
The ice cream cone recipe was different from the one Mrs. Shields sold in her 1950s neighborhood confectionery down the street from where we lived. Mrs. Shields bought her cones wholesale off the back of a truck from a traveling salesman. Her ice cream was store-bought, too, which, according to most her the neighbors who bought her goods, were also very over priced.
Agnes Bertha Marshall was the authority on cold sweet treats, according to my mother. Marshall wrote so many books on the preparation of desserts made from flavored ices, the English author earned the title, Queen of Ices.
Ice Cream Cones and Labor Day Go Hand-in-Hand
Don't get me wrong, my mother was knowledgeable about and appreciated the real history of Labor Day and many other things in the human experience, on which she did not hesitate educating me. The historical marker for Labor Day, as well as many other historical date markers were common discussions in our house. My mother used the calendar for some of the liveliest history lessons, which she called history stories trying to make me think of these conversations as everyday dinner table banter instead of what the conversations really were--an extension of school!
I guess you could surmise that my mother was a history buff and did her best to turn me into one, too. Not only was she a history buff, but a science buff, a math buff, an art buff, language buff; you name it! If it had to do with education, the subject made her a buff. She scoured used book store shelves and, yard and estate sales looking for suitable material to use against all of my free time. At the time when I was growing up, public policy prevented us from entering most libraries. Occasionally, a neighbor that worked for the city as a library janitor brought my mother worn library books discarded from shelves due to overuse, wear-and-tear and abuse.
Repairing a book with a broken spine or torn pages, and erasing pencil marks from margins, my mother complained, "Some people should not be allowed to check out library books because they don't know how to handle them! And they won't let us into the public library!"
I was not allowed to celebrate something unless I had an understanding of what the something was and, sometimes, not even then; as in my grandmother's lesson on Halloween, another story. But I will keep this discussion focused on ice cream cones and Labor Day.
My great grandmother's homemade ice cream recipe marked the end of summer.
On Labor Day, my mother made her grandmother's 100-plus-year-old homemade ice cream recipe given to her by her grandmother to use with the 100-plus-year-old antique wooden ice cream freezer, also a gift from her grandmother. I remember the freezer well. It stayed in the family for years, coming first into the possession of my grandmother via her mother, then my mother.
I remember taking turns with invited neighborhood children cranking the ice cream freezer. My mother usually made vanilla but occasionally mixed in fresh seasonal fruit or berries or mint from our garden or powdered green tea, all of which my mother also used in our teatime rituals.
I don't know what finally happened to my great grandmother's ice cream freezer, which would be mine by now. I only have a vague memory of the wooden boards coming off. Overuse, I guess.
|Sausage and Veggies on the Grill|
Before the arrival of Labor Day, during ice cream summer, many of our evenings in the backyard included my mother's cookouts, where she invited neighbors to join in the fun.
If neighbors had something to throw on the fire or place on the table, it was welcomed. However, if they didn't have a contribution to the feast, my mother welcomed them empty-handed anyway, dividing up what she already had so that everyone got a little taste of some part of her delicious offering.
As flatbed trucks drove slowly down neighborhood streets and stopped at various corners letting people off, many of our neighbors and their children my own age were only getting home from their summer jobs toiling from sunup to sundown in blazing sun picking cotton on nearby farms.
"You can't throw an outdoor ice cream supper and let your neighbors stare from the heat of their yards," my mother said. "If you don't have something to offer them, keep your supper inside your house, no matter how hot is tets in there! Especially on Labor Day!"