Homemade ice cream has been a staple in the ministry of hospitality my wife Melanie has practiced since we were married nearly 33 years ago. An ice-cream freezer was one of our first purchases as newlyweds. We’re now on our third freezer, having replaced the electric motor once or twice as well.
Although summer officially ends in September, our aging freezer doesn’t know the difference. For us, the offseason for homemade ice cream runs from about Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day -- with room for exceptions. We’ve been known to serve homemade ice cream with a fire burning in the fireplace.
An ice-cream freezer has accompanied us on moves to Memphis, Louisville and Nashville (twice each), Atlanta, Fort Worth and Waco. We have crammed a freezer into the back of our little Nissan Sentra and then a series of minivans for vacation trips to the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina and to the beaches of Alabama and Florida.
We have lugged a freezer to potluck dinners and church picnics. We have served gatherings at our house of Sunday school classes, spiritual-formation groups, prayer teams and committees (we are Baptist, after all). We have dished up dessert to college and seminary students, newlyweds, first-time parents and senior adults. We have shared spoons with our children’s schoolteachers and band directors. We have served pastors and other ministers, seminary professors, deacons, missionaries and office colleagues.
Melanie’s frozen hospitality has warmly welcomed new neighbors, new church members and prospective church members. (Homemade ice cream has to be the mother of all ice-breakers.) We have combined homemade ice cream with card games, board games, outdoor games and rowdy games of charades. New friends have been formed and lifelong friendships have been nurtured over homemade ice cream.
I should add that homemade ice cream at our house is always served in a mug, not a bowl. A bowl is for packaged ice cream you pull out of the freezer for ordinary occasions. Like Coca-Cola served in a glass, homemade ice cream just tastes better in a mug. Also, with a mug, you can sit anywhere. A table is not required (unless you’re playing cards or a board game).
For me, homemade ice cream also serves up a little nostalgia. I remember as a youngster “helping” Dad make ice cream. He would pull an old wooden ice-cream freezer out of the storage unit at the back of the patio behind our little frame house in Woodward, Okla. The place of honor was to sit atop a layer of dish towels on the freezer, allegedly to hold it in place, while Dad churned. I would always ask if I could help crank. Gripping the wooden handle with both hands, I would give it all I had for about 90 seconds while Dad chuckled. Later, my hard work would be rewarded when Mom pulled the dasher from the cold container and place it on a cookie sheet for younger brother Michael and me to try to scrape clean before the bits of ice cream melted.
Our children were raised on homemade ice cream. In fact, ice cream was just what the doctor ordered. Micah was about eight months old when we invited friends Gerry and Becky Hickson over for homemade ice cream. About every third bite, Gerry would nonchalantly slip a little dab between Micah’s lips. At some point he saw the startled look in our eyes. “What?” he said innocently. “I figure a little homemade ice cream is the next best thing to mother’s milk!”
While she may not have been ready for Micah to enjoy the pleasure of ice cream quite so early, Melanie has dished up gallons of homemade ice cream to our children and their friends. She once treated lucky kindergarteners at Meredith’s elementary school to homemade ice cream to add some extra flavor to a unit about Georgia. (It was peach, of course.) When Micah was at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, we hauled a freezer 1,000 miles from Atlanta so he could wow his buddies with his mom’s homemade ice cream.
Melanie’s homemade ice cream wows everybody, even after making a transition a number of years ago to a lower-fat version. But for her, homemade ice cream has been more than a traditional family treat; it has been a means to ministry. At her hands, ice cream has been a commodity for Christian hospitality.
I won’t make any rash claims about the spiritual qualities of Melanie’s homemade ice cream. I doubt that it holds the key to world peace (although I’m considering having a T-shirt made with the slogan, “Make Ice Cream, Not War”). But this I do know: Melanie’s homemade ice cream, served with a platter of chocolate brownies, is a foretaste of heaven.