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The Joys of Summer - Homemade Ice Cream!

Many a favorite childhood memory involves summertime and ice cream... hot days and fresh fruit creams melting into happy smiles. Homemade ice cream, fashioned from a few seasonal ingredients, mixed and chilled, is still the ideal ending to a summertime meal. So, why not pick, or pick-up, some local produce and create a treat that everyone will remember.

When you're making ice cream at home, fresh ingredients are essential. "Use the freshest ingredients available. Farm fresh eggs, cream and fruit create the most flavorful ice creams," says Constance Jesser, chef and owner of the Jacksonville Mercantile. All ice creams follow the same basic directions. Start by heating cream and sugar, and then add beaten eggs or egg yolks, followed by flavorings and fruit. Allow to cool and then freeze in the ice cream maker.

Fresh Rogue Valley fruits contribute to amazing ice creams. Choose ripe, aromatic fruits for their taste and generally softer texture. Not ripe enough? Heat them on the stovetop until softened. Use honey to add a hint of sweetness.

"Using fresh fruits can be tricky," says Jesser. "Any berries you're adding need to be added at the end of the stirring process." If they're added early, the brightly colored fruits will color the ice cream. Add texture to strawberry ice cream by pureeing most of the berries and cutting a few into small, evenly sized pieces. For delicate blueberry ice cream, add whole blueberries at the end of mixing. Otherwise Jesser says," they'll turn the ice cream grey and it's not attractive." Blackberries, too, need to be added at the end, or they'll turn the ice cream dark purple.

Succulent valley peaches make amazing ice cream. For a peachier taste and color, add a nectarine as it gives a little extra acid. Peel, pit and mash the fruit to the desired texture, then, to keep it from browning, add a few teaspoons of lemon or lime juice.

If you're using spices to pump up the flavor of your ice cream, they need to be fresh, too. John McMillan, owner of Ashland's Cucina Biazzi, likes to use freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon in his ice creams. Slice, scrape and add the rich center of an aromatic vanilla bean for a mouth-watering dessert. Herbs and spices provide a counterpoint to the sweetness of fruit and add color.

If you want to add a fresh citrus taste, don't use juice. Its acidity will cause the cream to curdle. Simply zest your orange or tangerine (others will do, from kumquat to kudzu), and add it to your ice cream base to infuse the flavor. Strain the mixture after cooking but before it cools. Natural citrus, nut and coconut extracts are wonderful additions. The concentrated flavors also don't contain much water, which can change the texture of homemade ice cream.

Storing homemade ice cream can be a challenge. Leaving it in the machine's bowl is a poor choice. The ice cream becomes hard as ice and just as difficult to scoop. Jesser suggests transferring the ice cream from the bowl into a plastic container that's big enough to accommodate the dessert with a little room to spare. If it's filled all the way, when it freezes, it expands and can push off the lid.

Ten to 20 minutes before delighting your guests with your frozen dessert, let it soften in the refrigerator. For the best flavor, it's important to eat your ice cream within a week. With succulent fruit, summer heat and lots of volunteers, that really shouldn't be a problem.

The Joys of Summer — Homemade Ice Cream!