Old fashioned ice cream making a comeback

by Janice Middleton

The heat wave of the last few weeks may be limiting many activities, but it's creating line-ups at South Shore ice cream counters.

Just ask the Goldberg sisters Dinah, 10, and Alma, 8, enjoying a waffle cone in Lunenburg on a family holiday from their Toronto home, eyes closed in bliss enjoying the cold, sweet taste sensation on a boiling hot day.

The girls are happy with any kind of ice cream, but for aficionados, homemade is tops, say artisan ice cream makers. It's fresher, ingredients such as cocoa and ginger are natural, and there's less sugar in it. There's no need to add preservatives because it sells out quickly.

Because there's much less air and water than in industrial ice cream, homemade will freeze much harder, the makers say, and it's richer so you don't need to eat as much to feel satisfied.

This taste tester for LighthouseNOW agrees whole-heartedly. Five flavour tests in, each one was judged better than the last.

There was a time when all ice cream was local and for those who prefer it homemade, those times are back.

It was only in the 1970s that industrialized ice cream sold through supermarkets and popular brands like Haagen-Dazs took over the market from local ice cream parlours and soda fountains that made their own ice cream and had been serving the public for 100 years.

Recently ice cream stores and unique restaurants that feature ice cream dishes have surged in popularity, including two South Shore shops. They specialize in ice cream made the way those who remember ice cream shops and soda fountains of days past prefer, as well as becoming popular with a new generation of ice cream fans.

At the tiny Sweet Treasures Confectionery in Lunenburg, open until 10 p.m. every night during the season, the line is often out the door and up the sidewalk. "You can't buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream, and that's kinda the same," a chalk sign says.

"Sometimes it's hard to close the door," says owner Melissa Shaw.

Shaw whips up a fresh batch of homemade ice cream every morning. The big silver machine mixes milk, cream, and sugar with guar gum stabilizer, along with a variety of flavourings, two and a half tubs at a time. A scoop of homemade ice cream is $4 or 25 cents more than a scoop of the industrial Scotsburn brand.

Made from guar beans, a legume mostly grown in India and Pakistan, guar gum acts like eggs do to hold the mixture together, but without the risk of allergy that eggs carry. The good news is that guar gum, high in fibre, has some health benefits arguably making an ice cream cone good for you. Studies show guar gum helps control blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and weight.

"Artisan ice cream has a higher cream content and the texture proves it," says Lisa Purcell, owner of Get the Scoop in Mahone Bay, where all of the ice cream is made on the premises. "My ice cream is premium, about 18 per cent fat content. It's ice cream like it was in the '50s and '60s. It's dense, almost chewy."

You never know what you'll find in the cooler at Get the Scoop. Purcell leans heavily toward whatever fruit is in season. Her Apple Pie a la Mode has a whole pie mixed into the vanilla ice cream. Or you might try Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam or her raspberry and ginger root. Some customers come by daily for her coffee ice cream.

Shelah Allen waxed ecstatic about Purcell's ice cream after her first visit to Get the Scoop. "The waffle cone was very fresh, as promised, but it was the flavour of the ice cream that knocked it out of the ballpark-rhubarb cinnamon; the rhubarb grown three blocks away. Fresh, fun, deliciousness. I can only imagine it with Ironworks (Distillery in Lunenburg) rhubarb liquor drizzled over it!" Allen wrote on Facebook.

"What I like best is watching people eat my ice cream," Purcell says. "Everybody sits down at a table and will be talking and then there's complete silence as they start to enjoy the taste."

This summer, the favourite flavour out of the dozen Shaw makes regularly is haskapa, a locally-grown berry known for its antioxidant qualities and high levels of Vitamin C. Shaw boils then purees the berries, which taste like a blend of blueberry and raspberry with hints of blackberry and current.

"Everyone who comes here says they can't find it anywhere else," Shaw says. Haskap berries are $9 a pound, she says, making the ice cream expensive to make, but it's been worth it as it sells out the day it's made. "People are crazy over it."

Sweet Treasures customers also like peanut butter eureka, and cappuccino, she said. "People get very attached to their ice cream flavours."

Scotsburn's moon mist, three mixed flavours of bubblegum, banana, and grape, is a favourite with local children. It's a made in Nova Scotia-only ice cream, as is grapenut, which is whole wheat and malted barley. "Seniors love grapenut," Shaw says.

Europeans like privateer ice cream, a blend of vanilla, salted caramel, and black licorice, new in 2017. Europeans are into sprinkles on everything, says Shaw, who found her calling with her first summer job while attending Mount St. Vincent University to become a teacher. What was the attraction? She enjoyed the work so much she bought the business.

That was 12 years ago and Shaw's still in love with ice cream. "Generally, people coming in for ice cream are happy, they've been to the beach. They're on vacation."

Not everyone falls into the trade by chance. The University of Guelph has been running an ice cream technology short course every year since 1914. Purcell took the course in 2016 and found it "intense." The week-long course, which draws students from around the world, is comprised of lectures and hands-on ice cream making and labs.

"We normally take up to 25 people in the course, but have had between 30 and 50 on years where there is a lot of demand. In recent years, the number of participants who are interested in small batch ice cream making has increased to half the course participants," says program assistant Kay Norwell.

It should also be noted that today's ice cream isn't necessarily your parents' ice cream. Douglas Goff, a professor in the Department of Food Science at Guelph, who has headed the course since 1987, studies ice cream, food freezing, and dairy products. He co-wrote a book on it that's now used as the course textbook.

Goff and his research team have found that cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) extracted from ground-up banana rachis and mixed into ice cream at varying concentrations caused the ice cream to melt much more slowly than traditional ice cream. They also found that CNFs increased the shelf life of ice cream and gave low-fat ice creams a creamier texture.

Three major ice cream processors (Nestle Canada, Unilever Canada, and David Chapman's) hold a combined market share of about 64 per cent of the ice cream market. Quebec-based Agropur Co-operative, owned by 3,290 dairy farmers, produces many ice cream brands in Eastern Canada and the United States, including Nova Scotia's Scotsburn and Farmers brands. The company reported $6.4 billion in sales in 2017, 7.7 per cent over 2016, its financial report states.

Private label and artisanal ice cream hold 12 per cent and 1.1 per cent shares of the Canadian ice cream market, respectively. Top ice cream flavours in Canada are vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch, caramel, coffee, mint chocolate chip, and maple walnut.

Canadians are eating less ice cream, about a quarter as much, which amounts to 4.4 litres a year per person. This is compared with 19.9 litres per capita 30 years ago, according to Statistics Canada. Market analysts say Canadians have increasingly turned to frozen yogurt and cheeses. Australians are the highest consumers of ice cream treats in the world followed by New Zealand, the United States, Finland, and then Canada in fifth place.

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