For a fun way to cool down, make your own popsicles

Sometimes you have a cooking goal, like learning to make a decent pot of rice or cut up a whole chicken. Other times, a cooking goal finds you.

My current popsicle-making crush falls squarely into the second category. It’s an accident. It happened like this: Several years ago when I happened to be in Freeport, I made my standard stop at Casco Bay Cutlery & Kitchenware. I go for the dogs – one or two large, placid dogs are usually wandering around the store, or snoozing, and willing to accept a pat. And I go for the kitchenware – like canines, another category that inexorably attracts me.

To celebrate its anniversary, Casco Bay Cutlery was having a drawing for prizes, and you could sign up for two of a handful of potential prizes. Like probably everybody else who visited the store that day, I put my name down for the extravagant Le Creuset pot that I coveted but couldn’t justify spending several hundred dollars on. I didn’t need, or even desire, any of the other prizes, so as an afterthought, I picked the $15 plastic popsicle molds as my other potential prize.

Guess which I won?

For several years, the molds sat, in their box, on a shelf in my basement, where I keep overflow kitchenware. But near-record heat last summer, combined with my refusal to install air conditioning (deal with climate change by worsening it?), drove me to popsicles. Since then, I have been trying to work up a repertoire.

A patriotic pop. You can make red, white and blue popsicles for July 4. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

EASY-PEASY

And what fun! Some cooking – making dinner when you are tired – is a chore. Some cooking – learning to bake sourdough bread – is a challenge. Some cooking is a ritual – for me, that’s pancakes on Sunday mornings. And some, like making popsicles (or popcorn, is it the word “pop”?), is just plain fun. They are fun to eat, too. It’s hard to be sad or mad when you have a popsicle in your hand.

Speaking of fun, I have only just learned through a recent Twitter controversy, if you can call it that, what the English call popsicles: Lolly ice. Or is it ice lolly? That’s what the fuss is about.

It’s possible to make complicated popsicles. Abby Freethy, of Greenville-based Wicked Maine Pops, who said she makes “thousands and thousands” of popsicles every summer, recently collaborated with Belfast-based The Only Donut to make a coconut cream-brioche popsicle. It involved dipping doughnuts into coffee from Belfast’s Downshift Coffee, cutting the soaked doughnuts into strips, stirring them into a custard base and I don’t know what all else. She said the popsicle was incredibly delicious. I have no doubt. But I’ll leave that sort to the professionals.

A big part of what I like about making popsicles is that the ratio of reward to work is high.

The most complicated popsicle I have attempted is what I call my patriotic pop, because I was going for stripes of red (sour cherry), white (lightly sweetened coconut milk) and blue (blueberry) in honor of July 4. You could use mashed -up strawberries for the red, too, and plain Greek yogurt for the white layer. Frankly, it was a bit of a pain, because instead of one mixture, I had to make three. The washing-up was more trouble, too.

Also, patriotic pops demand a lot of patience. For stripes, you must wait long enough (as much as 1½ hours, depending on your freezer) before pouring in your second layer, and then your third. Otherwise, you will have a color palette art experiment: Mix primary colors blue and red for secondary color violet, etc. Alternatively, you can let the layers mostly but not entirely freeze and go for a tie-dye effect. Whichever, Happy Fourth. To Maine’s traditional Independence Day salmon and peas dinner, I suggest topping things off with popsicles.

FAVORITE FLAVORS

Ryan Lowe, who has been driving an ice cream truck in neighborhoods all over Portland for more than 20 years, said his most popular popsicle flavors these days are SpongeBob SquarePants popsicles in fruit punch and cotton candy flavor with gumball eyes and Sonic the Hedgehog popsicles in blue raspberry. C’mon kids, there is no such thing as a blue raspberry. The two are, he said, “the No. 1 sellers,” and his attempts to phase them out have failed.

“That’s the world we live in,” Lowe said resignedly. “Everything has to be flashy and over the top now.”

By comparison, my own popsicles are not in the least flashy and have no ties to Paramount or Pixar. Here are some of my personal favorite flavors that I have made: Avocado-Lime-Mint, Banana-Tahini-Fudge, Strawberry-Rhubarb, Vietnamese Coffee, Apricot-Lavender, and Gingered Rhubarb, which I layered with Greek yogurt, then marbled the two flavors together with a chopstick. Very pretty. OK, maybe that one was a little flashy? That was the popsicle I was eating on a sweltering day in May when my neighbor, Jen Rowland, and I were gardening together. She was cooling down with a beer.

I also tried making pickle popsicles, a flavor I ran into many years ago when I lived in Texas. Apparently, these have now gone national and are sold by Walmart and Amazon. For my version, I added a small amount of honey to leftover brine from Morse’s B & B pickles, poured the mixture into molds and froze it. The next day, I gave a pickle popsicle a lick – Kapow! Thwack! This kick-in-the-pants popsicle is probably not for everybody, but you should ever find yourself in Houston in the summer, it’s a winner. You don’t know what heat is until you’ve spent an August day in Houston.

Chelsea Beliveau, host of the popsicle party, watches as her daughter Tilly, 4, tries a homemade Strawberry-Rhubarb Popsicle. Tilly dressed up for the party – and how! Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

POPSICLE PARTY

I had been making popsicles to please myself, but after talking with Lowe, I got to wonder what small children would think of my handiwork. What I needed was a panel of experts. Another neighbor, Chelsea Beliveau, mom to 4-year-old Tilly, graciously volunteered to gather said experts and host a popsicle party if I would provide the popsicles. In the end, 11 kids, age 4 to 9, came. At least I think it was 11. Between the dog, CoraJane, who gave the popsicles an inquisitive sniff; the kids; the parents; the fast-melting popsicles; the happy chaos; and the costumes (yeah, not sure how that happened), I never got a good count.

On the menu: Patriotic pops, Banana-Tahini-Fudge and Strawberry-Rhubarb popsicles. I can’t say I got highly scientific results from my tasting panel, either. Mostly, a show of hands for the favorite, which might have been Strawberry-Rhubarb? I can say for sure that the patriotic pops were divisive, which should have occurred to me ahead of time and which, weirdly, reflects the current state of politics in America. I mean, what if you are a kid who likes cherries, but not blueberries, or coconut but not cherries?

Maggie Brokofsky, 6, tries to catch a drip while eating a homemade, Banana-Tahini-Fudge popsicle at a neighborhood party. Lesson for the adults in charge? Unmold carefully! If you leave the popsicles in warm water too long, (obviously) they’ll melt. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

I messed up the Banana-Tahini-Fudge. I’d borrowed a popsicle mold and couldn’t figure out how to unmold the popsicles from it. I ended up leaving the molds in warm water for too long, so the popsicles started to melt. Even without 11 kids around you, unmolding popsicles is always a heart-in-mouth moment. Conor Beliveau, who was hosting the party with his wife, Chelsea, saved me from a feeling of failure. The Banana-Tahini-Fudge popsicles, he called out from the picnic table, were “rich, delicious, viscous and buttery.” Several kids, uninterested in making me feel better, objected to the soupy texture.

On the other hand, minus the two Banana-Tahini-Fudge popsicles that turned into soup and couldn’t be eaten, the remaining popsicles disappeared, and the whole gang volunteered to return anytime to taste-test more flavors. A few kids put in requests, for — and against — coconut.

What says summer to you? For me, it’s lake swims, stone fruit, ants in the kitchen, the smell of honeysuckle, the sound of crickets and, henceforth, homemade popsicles.

The children voted for their favorite popsicles, but the results were not entirely clear. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


Note: Popsicle molds aren’t entirely standardized, so you may find you make slightly more or fewer popsicles than listed with these recipes.

Banana-Tahini Fudge Popsicles

I like Smiling Hill chocolate milk here. The makes a fudgy, satisfying chocolate popsicle that is more interesting than any you can buy, though eaters may not be able to identify the recipe just why.

Yield: 6-8 popsicles

2 cups good-quality chocolate milk
1/4 cup tahini
2 quite ripe bananas, well mashed
Dash salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Set aside 1/4 cup of the chocolate milk. Combine the remainder with the tahini in a medium-sized pot on the stove. Add the bananas and the salt. Stir the mixture to combine, then scald the milk, in another words warm it over medium heat to just below a boil, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk the reserved 1/4 cup chocolate milk and the cornstarch together until no lumps remain. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the scalded milk and bring it to a slow boil. Boil slowly, stirring all the while, until the mixture thickens a little, about 3 minutes. Take it off the heat. If you prefer a smoother popsicle, puree the mix with an immersion blender.

Let the flavored milk cool, then pour into the molds and freeze at least 7 hours. When you are ready to eat them, unmold by placing the molds in a dish of warm water for 30 seconds or less; the popsicles should slide right out.

Food editor Peggy Grodinsky hands a Strawberry-Rhubarb Popsicle to a child during a party as CoraJane the Irish setter looks on with interest. In the foreground is a cardboard popsicle cut-out the kids made before the real ones arrived. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Strawberry-Rhubarb Popsicles

Yield: About 8 popsicles

1½ cups sliced ​​rhubarb
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1½ cups quartered strawberries
Dash salt
Generous 1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt

Combine the rhubarb, sugar, water and zest in a medium-sized pot on the stovetop. Scrap the seeds of the vanilla bean into the mixture and throw in the pod, too. Simmer about 10 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and starting to break down. Turn off the heat and add the strawberries and salt. Cool the fruit mixture to room temperature. Remove the vanilla bean pod.

In a food processor or blender, blend the fruit mixture with the yogurt. Pour into the popsicle molds. Freeze at least 7 hours. Unmold by placing the molds in a dish of warm water for 30 seconds or less; the popsicles should slide right out.

Bay Merrick, 5, tries a Banana-Tahini Fudge Popsicle at a neighborhood party. Save the Vietnamese Coffee Popsicles for the grown-ups. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Vietnamese Coffee Popsicles

The internet has confirmed what we probably all already knew: I thought I was a genius to come up with this flavor idea for a popsicle, but many people got there ahead of me. This version is adapted from that of food blogging star and former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebowitz. I added the cardamom.

Yield: About 6 popsicles

5-6 tablespoons coffee beans
8 cardamom pods, or to taste
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

Grind the beans with the cardamom pods. Brew the coffee. Combine the 2 cups coffee with the sweetened condensed milk. Pour the mix into the molds and freeze at least 7 hours. When you are ready to eat them, unmold by placing the molds in a dish of warm water for 30 seconds or less; the popsicles should slide right out.


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