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Confessions of a Cheapskate: Date Ice Cream
Categories: Dairy, Dates, Ice Cream

Mind If We Dance With Your Dates?

I’m going to out my mother here.

You may not know this, but my mom has a long and well-deserved reputation for scratch baking. Everything she makes, from pecan tarts and coffee cloud sponge cake to divinity fudge and Winnie the Pooh birthday cakes is made from a host of raw materials that she blends into delicious and often beautiful finished products.

Did I say everything? Make that almost everything. When we were kids, one of our favorite cookies was the date bar. These were made, obviously, from the fruit of the date palm. They were also made… from a mix.

(Gasp!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it or putting it down or anything. I’m just saying it. Personally I am a huge fan of the Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix they sell at Costco (which means 6 batches/box) and I love the convenience of being able to do nothing more than stir some oil and an egg into the mix and “Voila!” Brownies.

But it’s not really baking.

There, I said it. And if saying that makes me a snob, then I’m a snob. (Notice how I’m outing myself now?) Yet that feeling of superiority, although fun, is not the real reason I bake from scratch. What I’m all about is the expense.

(Boy, talk about burying the lead.)

Yes, at my core, in my heart-of-hearts, I’m a cheapskate. Stuck at some pre-adolescent stage of development, I always want to spend as little as I can. Did I mention that I’m half Scottish? That’s why I always look for the cheapest thing on the menu. It’s why I do most of the carpentry and electrical repairs around the house. It’s even why I shop at Costco.

That whole issue of savings is why baking from a mix gives me such conflicting feelings. I am wildly attracted to the labor saving nature of baking mixes. The problem is that they also cost more than baking from scratch. So what do I value more, my money or my time?

Good question.

When I was younger and had all the time in the world, saving money was more appealing. Now that I’m less young, I’m not so sure.

What I’d really like is to spend the time and money on my family. And if that means working in the kitchen with my girls, then scratch baking gives us more time together. If that means enjoying our meals (including desserts) together, it doesn’t matter how the food was prepared, or even if we take out.

(Double gasp!)

So sometimes I’ll make the ice cream, sometimes we’ll get it at the store and still other times we’ll go out to Dairy Queen or Oberweis. When it comes to date ice cream, however, the only place to go is Hadley’s fruit stand out on I-10 near Palm Springs. (The date shakes are especially good.) But when you’re as cheap as me, that’s way too far to go.

We’re not in California anymore, Dorothy.

So I made my own.

Date Ice Cream
(about 1½ quarts)
1 ½ cup milk
¾ cup sugar
2 T flour
A few grains salt
2 eggs or 3 yolks (pasteurized, if possible, see note)
1 ½ cup cream
1 ½ cups pitted dates

  1. Heat milk to 180-190ºF with sugar, flour and salt, stirring until thick, cover for 10 minutes.
  2. Beat eggs and add ½ cup of mixture while beating, then add eggs to mixture.
    HEALTH NOTE:     Since you’re dealing with eggs here, you need to take care when cooking the custard. Too much cooking and the custard gets lumpy, too little and you risk salmonella.  Another alternative is to use pasteurized eggs.
  3. Heat the mixture for one minute over medium heat, then cool with plastic wrap or wax paper pressed onto the top of the mixture to keep it from developing a skin. Cool for several hours or overnight.
  4. Place the dates in the custard base and puree the whole mixture with an immersion blender. (Note: You might be better off pureeing the dates with a bar blender or a food processor. The thickness of the dates left my immersion blender about ready to blow. So be careful)
  5. Freeze in an ice cream freezer for about 35 minutes.
  6. Put the now frozen ice cream into the freezer for a couple of hours to give it a chance to firm up.

NOTE:     When freezing ice cream, you need to use an ice cream freezer to ensure that a certain amount of air is mixed into the frozen cream. This gives it a lighter, less icy consistency. When freezing sorbet, you may also freeze it in a popsicle mold, a bowl or on a sheet pan. Be sure to stir the mixture occasionally to limit the size of the ice particles. Larger chunks of ice make for granita, miniscule chunks make for a nice smooth sorbet (an ice cream freezer is ideal).

Photo Credit:  The sign for Hadley’s Fruit Orchards near Cabazon, California. Not my own image.

Okay, this may be a bit off topic, but when I was a kid, I was a pushover for all of the highway attractions we’d pass on our many family car trips. Wall Drug in South Dakota, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose and Hadley’s Date Farm were all places I wanted to stop, but my folks wouldn’t let us. Now that I have kids of my own, we’ve been to almost all these places, not to mention at least one “Mystery Spot.” What are your roadside favorites? Let me know in a comment.

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