Homemade ice cream evokes nostalgic childhood memories—smelling and touching the rock salt, listening to the hum of the motor while swatting bugs in the backyard, helping Dad at the grill. It took time and energy, but the result was heavenly. Nearly everyone has an ice cream memory, and this quintessential summer treat is found in delectable flavors as varied as those who enjoy it.
Ice cream is first seen in history in China, circa 3000 BC, and many countries and historical figures lay claim to its discovery. It is, simply, a semi-frozen concoction of sugar, cream, and flavoring. Later versions incorporated eggs for richness and began experimenting with variables such as flavors, textures, and freeze time.
Most ice cream products start with a cooked liquid base of dairy (or dairy substitute such a coconut or cashew milk), sugar, and flavorings. This mixture is cooled completely and then churned to both freeze and aerate the mixture.
Omaha boasts several artisan ice cream shops, and Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel is the purported home of Butter Brickle ice cream, a nostalgic favorite that takes its name and flavor profile from a candy developed by the Fenn Bros. Ice Cream and Candy company in South Dakota around 1918. We love our ice cream in the Midwest and it shows.
In the United States, to be called ice cream, the base must have 10% milkfat minimum. In Omaha, Ted & Wally’s product is much richer. Its concoctions, made with local eggs and dairy, boast the highest butterfat in America at 20 percent. Churned in 100-year-old White Mountain freezers with rock salt and ice, there is very little overflow (amount of air incorporated into the mix during churn), resulting in a creamy product with a texture that cannot be mimicked in more modern machines. Famous for featuring local ingredients and collaborating with local creators, Ted & Wally’s menu board is updated daily with both available flavors and a list of current suppliers. The current Old Market location is housed in a former gas station and decorated with gas station paraphernalia obtained from the owners’ grandfather. “The present is very much informed by the past here,” shared co-owner Joe Pittack.
Gelato, another frozen dessert, starts with a lower butterfat mix, incorporating less air during churn, resulting in a denser product typically served a slightly warmer temperature. Local ice cream shop eCreamery, serving a customer base both in parlor and online, found traditional methods proved inconsistent for freezing/shipping. The company embarked on intensive gelato training, eventually landing on a “gelato-style” Italian ice cream and gelato machines with different paddles, each controlling the amount of incorporated air.
Operating out of the former Carl Baum drugstore on Underwood in the Dundee neighborhood, eCreamery delights in serving customers both in the brick and mortar store and online. Clever names, custom packaging, and national shipping give customers the ability to see eCreamery’s ideas come to life. Local artist Tom Meyers creates colorful and engaging chalkboard art announcing the day’s flavors, and the spring green tile draws customers in with its modern yet kitschy appeal.
Quality ingredients are critical when making ice cream, and using those ingredients in both familiar and surprising ways sums up the farm-to-table approach of Coneflower Creamery, located in Omaha’s Blackstone neighborhood. Creative, seasonal, handmade offerings are churned in small batches onsite in a tiny kitchen lovingly referred to as “cooking in a submarine” by owner Brian Langbhen. Co-owner Katie Arant shared, “We take nostalgic classics and make them as good as you can with the best possible ingredients, drawing on our past experiences for inspiration.”
During the period of social distancing, all three shops pivoted in admirable fashion. eCreamery got creative with temporary flavor names such as “Chill Out, It’s Called Social Distancing” (Vanilla with Cookie Dough), and comfort selections such as “Life is Better with Ice Cream” (Mint Cookie Crunch with Fudge Swirls). Ted & Wally’s opened to take out and delivery, and Coneflower scooped up hundreds of pints for online ordering/curbside pickup.
While some prefer their ice cream served au naturel in a dish, cone lovers can choose from a variety of handmade cones and toppings. Cookies and ice cream are a perfect pair, and if you are lucky, you might come across the eCreamery/Carson’s Cookie food truck when out running errands. The two companies recently merged, making a match made in heaven.
With the advent of today’s ice cream machines, churning your own at home is easy and delicious. Jeanne Ohira of Ted & Wally’s offers sage advice. “Use heavy cream and real eggs! Don’t be afraid to try new flavors and take inspiration from what’s around you. If it’s a food, it can be ice cream.” It can take several iterations to get a recipe just right, so don’t be afraid to fail (even the rejects taste pretty good).
Coneflower has recently been experimenting with judicious use of fire in its flavors, such as burnt toast and charred berry. When asked about flavor development, Arant replied, “If I can see myself wanting a scoop of it, I’ll try any combination—make what you want to eat!”
Get inspired by foods, flavors, and experiences and try your own. You will find a flavor to love on hot summer days, just like Warren Buffet (mint chip) and Sir Paul McCartney (vanilla bean) did in that famous photo op on the Dundee bench outside eCreamery.