PA Family Turns Ice Cream Into A Family Tradition
EDGE GROVE, Pa. (AP) – You scream, I scream. Fourteenmonth old Alexis Smith, a stream of vanilla running down her chin, screams with glee.
We all scream for ice cream.
And in the case of the five generations of the Smith family who gathered recently at the Edge Grove home of Earl “Tony’’ Smith, the screams of childish excitement and loud conversations came during their weekly “ice cream night’’ – their 1,350th, to be exact.
Smith, 71, started his tradition simply enough back in 1978, after he received a stainless-steel ice cream maker from his father. He thought he’d try his hand at making a gallon of vanilla. It was good.
So good, in fact, that some of Smith’s seven siblings, all of whom live around Edge Grove, asked him if he’d make some more. “Maybe chocolate?,’’ they suggested. “I just made it that first Thursday night and the next thing you know people were saying, ‘we should do this again next week, and then next week,’’’ he says smiling, standing by the frosty machine that since then has produced more than 190 flavors on Thursday nights.
The ice cream machine – which sits in the corner of Smith’s basement in a worn plastic wash bin on a chipped bar stool – makes a gallon of ice cream per batch, using an electric motor. Smith explains vanilla is a simple mixture of milk, sugar, vanilla extract and pudding mix, and additional flavors are added from there.
Over 30 years, those added flavors have ranged from strawberry to watermelon, from Butterfinger to banana. The least successful was a neighbor’s request – sauerkraut fudge – but there have been few failures over the years, Smith says. And plenty of successes.
On this night, Smith’s greatniece, Jessica Reese, requests another batch of last week’s Snickers and peanut butter cup ice cream.
Surrounded by a crowd of eager ice cream eaters, it’s clear Smith spends time every week gathering ingredients and mixing ice cream for just such moments. After a stint in the military and time spent working “away from home’’ in Illinois, Smith says a weekly ice cream night is a way to keep extended family in touch, and to strengthen the bonds that today’s fast-paced lifestyle often strains.
It brings generations together, he says.
Like his sister, Joan – at the end of a polished wooden bar, a cup of vanilla in hand – who, the first Thursday of the month, makes a cake for those with a birthday that month. As the family grew, she stopped writing individual names on the cake, she says, opting instead for a piece of paper that lists them in loopy handwriting. This month’s cake flavor is vanilla-pineapple. And the list has 10 names. A slow month, she says.
Ice cream night also brings out Smith’s great-nephew, Kevin, who recently returned from Iraq. He’s always loved to help people, Smith explains, and relates how this stubbled soldier years ago as a boy would sit on his great-uncle’s lap and help give out ice cream. Kevin just smiles at the old story and eats another spoonful.