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Ice Cream Vacation

By Susan Sullivan

From Ice Cream by Elisha CooperFor our family, ice cream and summer go hand in hand. But it wasn’t until we traveled to Waterbury Vermont to go to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory that we became interested in learning about the history of ice cream and how to make it.

Every summer I take our two boys to Burlington, Vermont to visit an old roommate and her family. For the past three years our two boys have asked if we could go to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory but somehow between digging for fossils, swimming in Lake Champlain, visiting Shelburne Farms and hiking we haven’t been able to squeeze it in. But this year, we vowed, things would be different.

Our plans made, we headed out. Ben and Jerry’s, in operation 24 hours a day 5 days a week, is run in three eight-hour shifts. Two of the shifts make ice cream and the third shift is for cleaning and sterilizing the equipment. But, it was Saturday. The woman at the ticket booth explained that even ice cream makers needed rest. Although disappointed, the boys perked up immediately upon learning that they could take a tour and that ice cream samples were offered at the end.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the ice cream moguls, met in seventh grade gym class and became immediate friends when they realized that neither one was especially talented athletically. After college they decided to open a bagel business but when they discovered how expensive the equipment was they took a $5 correspondence course from Penn State on making ice cream. A year later (1978) they opened their first ice cream shop in Burlington, Vermont. By 1980 they were making pints of ice cream for distribution in Vermont. Five years later they had sales totaling over nine million dollars and in 2000 they sold the company to Unilever for 326 million dollars. Their commitment to world causes has always been an important part of the company, encouraging employees to volunteer in ways that will “improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally”.

Looking down on the factory from a glass corridor we were dumbfounded at how small it was. We couldn’t imagine all the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the world being made right down there. We soon discovered that it isn’t. The Waterbury, Vermont factory is one of two. 190,000 pints of ice cream are made daily in Waterbury and over 500,000 pints are made in St. Albans. We learned how ice cream is made, where flavors are added, where ice cream is cooled, and where it’s poured into containers. In that room below us, that room with a tile floor and stainless steel equipment, 95,000 pints of two different flavors are made each day and are chosen about 6 weeks in advance. We were not surprised to learn that Cookie Dough ice cream (our personal favorite, hands down) is one of their best sellers.

Unfortunately not all of their flavors have done as well as Cookie Dough or Cherry Garcia and have to be placed in the “Ben and Jerry’s Graveyard”. A few retired flavors include Peanut Butter and Jelly, Tennessee Mud (chocolate ice cream with Jack Daniels) and Sugar Plum. A factory worker told us that Sugar Plum (plum ice cream with swirls of caramel) was probably their worst seller. Many others, like Jalapeno, don’t even make it to production.

QuoteAlthough our summer travels may have slowed, our urge for ice cream hasn’t. If we couldn’t be in the Ben and Jerry’s sample line every day, we decided we should make our own. First we made the tried and true preschool recipe…Shake and Make. By using two Ziploc bags, one pint size and the other gallon size, some half and half, sugar, vanilla, rock salt, ice and a lot of shaking even three year olds can make ice cream that’s pretty tasty. The next day we branched out. I had tried desperately to find someone who had a hand crank ice cream maker but when I was unsuccessful we pulled out an electric ice cream maker some kind soul had given us as a wedding gift. My husband and I had used it once…maybe…but the boys and I were determined to give it a try. Our debut flavor was something simple from the Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book - French Vanilla. The boys took turns pouring in the ingredients and then layered the ice and salt around it and plugged it in. Every so often one of us would return to it, add more ice and salt and see what was happening. After about twenty minutes the paddle stopped turning so we knew it was done. We pulled the container out and scooped (well poured) the ice cream into different bowls. Definitely more milk shake than ice cream, it was by far the best vanilla ice cream we had ever had.

During Ice Cream Making week, our youngest, Max, decided he needed to change his name. His older brother is Ben so he insisted we call him Jerry.

He’s back to being Max now and happily eating ice cream every day - whether it’s made in a Ziploc bag or an ice cream machine, purchased at the local ice cream stand or at the grocery store. Max and Ben have figured out that there are well over 30 days left in summer and that means there are at least 30 more times they’ll be eating ice cream. It is summer after all.

Read and Learn More About Ice Cream With ...

Ben and Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert BookBen and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book
Ages: All Ages
Author: Ben Cohen    Author: Jerry Greenfield    Author: Nancy Stevens
Workman Publishing, $9.95 (Paperback)

Our souvenir from the Ben and Jerry factory, this recipe book is for those with an ice cream maker. It is here we found the recipe for French Vanilla ice cream.

Ice Cream
Ages: Infant - 5 yrs.
Author: Elisha Cooper
Greenwillow Books, $15.99 (Hardcover)

Ice Cream: Including Great Moments in Ice Cream History
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Jules Older
Charlesbridge, $6.95 (Paperback)

From Milk to Ice Cream
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Stacy Taus-Bolstad
Lerner Publications Company, $4.95 (Paperback)

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