Real Vanilla Mint Ice Cream tastes of spring with lingering grassy notes that speak of fresh herbs, newly sprouted from the earth. As winter recedes and light begins to return to the mountains, the hens and cows who've ceased production all winter long begin to lay their eggs and give their milk and cream once more.
The first eggs, milk, and cream of the year begin to arrive in March, sometimes early March and sometimes late March, and after a winter without eggs, milk, cream or fresh things to eat, I favor treats - chai custard or ice creams like this one.
After six or seven months of storage, I finally pull out our ice cream maker, dust it off and set it in the deep freeze to ice over. I use this ice cream maker, and as long as I keep the insert in the deep freeze for at least a full day, the ice cream it churns comes together in about 20 to 25 minutes. I make many ice creams in the spring and summer months: strawberry, sour cherry, sweet cherry and almond, blackberry honey, rose and saffron.
On Fresh Mint and Real Vanilla Bean
I favor fresh herbs, and fresh mint in particular, for flavoring my ice creams instead of extracts whose intense, assertive notes can over power the delicate flavors of milk, cream and honey. I grow most of my culinary herbs at home, tucked away in a bed of soil in little terra cotta pots. I keep them near a sunny window in the cold months and on my porch in warmer months. We also receive little bundles of herbs from a local farm where we pick up our weekly CSA - an assortment of fruits, vegetables, greens, herbs and starts.
Favoring traditional herbalism, the farmers grow all sorts of odd medicinal and culinary herbs - horehound, angelica, zatar, and more mints than I can count. Each season I find myself with not only the familiar spearmint and peppermint, but the less familiar apple mint, pineapple mint, spotted mint, pennyroyal, and mountain mint. Recently I picked up a little bundle tagged yerba buena, or good herb - a term that likely applies to regional varieties of mint rather than an isolated plant. Strong and heady with the sweet and startling notes of mint, this little bundle immediately called for pairing not only with other mints, but with the floral notes of vanilla bean, too.
On Raw Milk, Cream and Eggs
While some ice creams - those whose flavor depends on steeping herbs - depend also upon warmth and the very gentle application of heat, I favor keeping my milk, cream and eggs raw. When left raw and unheated, milk, cream and eggs retain their food enzymes, an array of beneficial microorganisms that support gut and immune system health, as well as naturally occurring, heat-sensitive vitamins.
In our home, we favor drinking raw milk through a local dairy offering herd share arrangements. Since retail sale of raw milk is illegal in Colorado, we purchase part of a dairy herd and, as owners in that herd, are entitled to drink the milk the cows produce. This share brings us closer to our food, and helps us to ensure that the cows that produce our milk are treated well, respectfully, gently and are also raised in a way that not only honors their intrinsic nature as herbivores, but also their health as well. Our cows spend their time on the fresh grass of snow-fed mountain pastures, beneath the clear blue sky and with access to fresh water unlike the cows held in conventional dairies - tightly packed, fed a diet of corn and soy.
Like all foods, raw milk, cream and eggs do not come without risk - even those from the healthiest, cleanest, grass-fed operations. Within this movement of traditional and real foods, I see leaders, long-time adherents and newcomers alike, deny the risk that these foods contain as though grass-fed raw milk or pasture-raised eggs are beyond reproach. The truth is all foods harbor risk - shellfish, ground beef, spinach, eggs, pasteurized and raw milk - but for me and for my family, it's a risk I'm comfortable taking.
Vanilla Mint Ice Cream
- Whisk the cream and milk together, and pour them into a saucepan set over medium-low heat. When the milk and cream begin to bubble ever so slightly at the edges of the pan, stir in the honey until it dissolves. Turn off the heat.
- Toss the mint into the saucepan. Take a paring knife, and cut a slit length-wise in the vanilla bean, then toss it in with the liquid ingredients and the mint. Cover the pot, and let the vanilla bean and mint steep in the sweetened milk for 20 minutes. Strain into a mixing bowl, cover it well and transfer it to the refrigerator until cold - about 2 hours.
- When the ice cream mix has grown cold, remove it from the fridge and whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly combined and uniform.
- Pour the mix into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the ice cream maker's manufacturer's instructions.