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The Last Windrow: Hope you're treated to this special Fourth of July treat

The crowning touch at our Fourth of July gatherings was the serving of the homemade ice cream after the meal.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com
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Does anyone make homemade ice cream on the Fourth of July anymore?

My parents had ways of making their kids feel special during our growing up years. One of the simple ways I felt somewhat responsible for something came the night my dad asked me if I'd like to turn the handle on the homemade ice cream machine.

It was a simple request that I could have easily turned down and no pressure was applied. But, I knew what the end result of the effort would be and I eagerly accepted his invitation.

We took a couple of bags of ice out of the refrigerator and a bag of salt and the liquid ingredients of the treat that we were about to create and headed for the farmhouse basement.

I watched as the liquid was poured into the metal container and the lid was installed atop. Then cracked ice laced with rock salt was packed alongside the container. I was introduced to the crank and the process began.

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There was a little bit of magic in the air.

Next week the nation will celebrate the Fourth of July and reunions and gatherings will be held to celebrate. This year is special in that the holiday falls on a Monday, which means a three-day holiday for many of the working crowd.

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A reflection on a fading tradition.

Regardless of the price of travel, these get-togethers will happen, kind of like the force of gravity, which cannot be denied.

Picnic tables will be adorned with brightly colored tablecloths and plastic dishes, knives and forks will come out of storage. Cooking duties will be designated with an eye toward the history of who makes the best of this or that.

If you liked the potato salad last year, you'll like it again this year. If baked beans were your specialty, you were expected to produce that pan full of them again this year. That's just the way it goes.

My family's Fourth of July celebration history always somehow found an unused cattle water tank on the picnic grounds. The tank was duly filled with water and an assortment of pop and beer bottles were plopped into it with watermelons floating amid the blocks of ice.

The water was so cold that even on a 100-degree Iowa July day, one could get cramps in their fingers if left too long under the surface in that ice-filled water tank.

I grew up in a time when the game of horseshoes was still in vogue. The holiday celebration would usually find that one of my uncles had set up a horseshoe court, and the ringing sound of horseshoes filled the air before the meal was served.

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Most of my uncles were expert horseshoe "pitchers," and even after they spotted me 10 points, I was easily outdone. There was no mercy.

The crowning touch at these gatherings was the serving of the homemade ice cream after the meal. This was a time before electric ice cream makers, and my young cousins and I were employed turning the machine's cranks until the salt water began to pour out of the hole at the top of the wooden bucket and the designated official "ice cream chef" declared the ice cream "done!"

Just by turning that crank, those of us who volunteered for the job felt a certain sense of accomplishment. The reward was getting the first lick off the machine's beater.

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

Do they make homemade ice cream anymore on the Fourth of July? I'd bet somewhere out there some kid is either eagerly turning a crank or watching until the salt water starts to seep from the hole at the top of the wooden bucket.

It was and is an exciting thing to look forward to this weekend.

See you next time! And, have a safe and happy Fourth of July. Enjoy your homemade ice cream!

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Opinion by John Wetrosky
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