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Vegan Ice Cream

My sixteen-year-old niece recently discovered that she’s lactose intolerant, right before she was going to an ice cream festival. When she lamented this fact on Facebook, someone commented that these days a lot of people are making vegan ice cream.

That’s when I got excited. You might even say obsessive. I spent my entire lunch hour and some of that evening looking up different vegan ice cream recipes online, plotting what I would try in my ice cream maker. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, debating what alternatives to use, which flavors, and when I could attempt it.

My enthusiasm startled even me. As I thought about it, though, I could start to understand where it was coming from.

I was diagnosed as allergic to milk at age ten; my mom and brother were diagnosed at the same time, so that only my dad could continue to freely indulge in dairy. (Although he probably would have anyway, given how much he loves cheese.) Sure enough, once I stopped the milk and cheese and ice cream, my perpetual “cold” went away. No more sneezing, running nose, or sore throat. That was all good, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t still want the dairy treats. And this was long before soy or other alternatives were readily available.

I learned to live without milk and even cheese, but somehow ice cream was harder. Not just for me, either. My mom loved soft serve, and summer evenings would sometimes find us getting cones in Naples, licking them as the sunlight reflected off Sebago Lake, or sometimes stopping by the Dairy Queen in Windham. The most telling example was when my mom was finally able to leave the hospital after her mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She’d been there five days, and on the way home she insisted we stop for ice cream; my dad and I weren’t going to argue.

And so I realized ice cream is incredibly comforting. That creamy smoothness, the satisfying cold on a hot summer day, the way it melts so sweetly on your tongue. This is true for most people, but for me personally, it goes a little deeper. The idea of eating ice cream without worrying about my allergies bring me back to some of my earliest happy childhood memories, when we’d stop for cones on the way home from swimming lessons, everyone relaxed and happy. It’s also a connection to my mom.

Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that I was so eager to try this. I started simply, with a vanilla base and adding a splash of mint, using just almond milk. It was good, but not that exciting. The chocolate banana was more like it, although that still didn’t have quite the creamy texture of regular ice cream. Then last weekend I tried cherry ice cream, which was more involved, between pitting the cherries and making a simple syrup (using agave nectar instead of sugar and thickening with tapioca), but I was very happy with the result. I think next will be a true mint chocolate chip, this time with some soy creamer.

7-1-12 Chocolate Banana Vegan Ice Cream.jpg

I’m not quite as addicted as this might make me seem. The batches are fairly small, and I don’t eat much every day. But I have to admit that when it’s sunny and humid out, it’s delightful to have my own ice cream as a cool treat.

And so I close with a slightly modified version of the old expression: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for vegan ice cream!”

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