Remember how it feels to bite into a Popsicle? The sound of our teeth cutting through the flavored ice and finally scraping against the wooden stick? Although the thought of that senstion may provoke a shudder, it could also trigger memories of lazy summer afternoons waiting for the ice-cream truck and, on its arrival, agonizing over the decision: coconut, grape, root beer, Fudgsicle, Dreamsicle . . .
Children still adore those sweet, sticky things. A scoop of something cold in a bowl means confinement at a table, spoon in hand. But an ice pop, like a snowcone or ice-cream cone, defies all rules. A child has the inalienable right to lick it, bite it, suck out the essence, catch a whole chunk in his mouth as it breaks away from the stick. Best of all, an ice pop can be eaten on the move.
It would be easy enough to pack your freezer with "mini-pops" and "frozen treats" or other commercially produced delicacies. Alas, the electric colors and intense flavors are, all too often, artificially induced. Homemade ice pops make better sense.
The first step is to acquire plastic molds (usually joined in units of 4, 6 or 8) into which lid/stick combinations are inserted. These are not as easy to find as they should be. Some supermarkets and kitchenware stores carry ice-pop molds, and so does Tupperware. When you find some, buy a generous supply, for they're usually in stock only during the summer.
Now, your basic homemade ice pop for easeful summer living is going to be just plain fruit juice. Apple juice makes a good starter ice pop for babies and toddlers because it doesn't stain much. Older children will appreciate deep-hued ice pops made from cranberry or grape juice, which bear a closer resemblance to the "real" (i.e., store-bought) thing. They would probably give strong ratings to ice pops made from gelatin, powdered drink mixes or fruit drinks, but these products generally contain additives and more sugar than anyone needs.
Another old standby among homemade ice pops is really a smoothie in frozen form. For these and most other ice-pop mixtures, the blender is more efficient than a food processor. Toss in fruit or juice with some yogurt or milk and perhaps a bit of honey. One or two whirs, and you have it.
What's wonderful about homemade ice pops of the fruit juice and smoothie varieties is that they're permissible snacks any time of day. One mother whose child is allergic to citrus fruits and wheat solves the breakfast problem by serving yogurt ice pops flavored with non-citrus fruits. The nutritional content could be boosted by adding tofu; unfortunately, every combination of ingredients I tried tasted worse after the tofu went in than before.
Day after summer day, a child should be able to count on finding these basic ice pops in the freezer. But occasionally it's nice to concoct an ice pop that will arouse more interest, especially among the household's grownups. A little imagination, 5 or 10 minutes of preparation, and you have a treat all age groups will enjoy.
Basically, ice pops of a higher order consist of the same kinds of mixtures as ice creams, ices and sherbets; but they're easier to make, because there's no hassling with an ice-cream machine. Just as for other frozen desserts, the taste of the final product is only as good as the ingredients. Those peaches you picked last weekend in Pennsylvania are bound to make a tastier ice pop than canned peaches.
For richer flavor, don't stint on the fruit. A proportion of about two-thirds fruit pure'e to one-third water, milk or other liquid generally results in an ice pop with proper fruit power. A little lime or lemon juice helps bring out the flavor of just about any fruit. So will a drop or two of a compatible French fruit essence (available at La Cuisine, an Alexandria kitchenware shop).
A dollop of liqueur is another excellent flavor enhancer. It can reinforce the flavor of the main ingredient (Pear William with pears) or complement it (Grand Marnier with strawberries). If the ice pops are for all ages, add the liqueur to just half the batch. Or consider making an adults-only ice pop using liqueur as the sole flavoring agent, as in the kir ice pop that follows. Always combine delicately flavored ingredients such as liqueurs with spring water, instead of tap water, to avoid introducing the taste of chlorine.
A classy ice pop like this should have a decent texture. Sweetening the mixture adequately is essential; otherwise, it will turn into a block of ice. Even when moderately sweetened, however, the average fruit or fruit juice ice pop has a fairly hard, icy texture. That's because it's frozen just once, instead of being broken up manually or by machine, as an ice cream or sherbet is. Gelatin is often used in sherbets to lend stability and smoothness to the mixture, and it also works well in ice pops. Half a teaspoon of gelatin for each cup of liquid mixture will do the trick.
Thanks to the pectin with which they were thickened, jam and jelly produce ice pops with an even softer, smoother texture. This also opens the door to unusual flavors such as damson plum, guava or ginger. The only problem is that these ice pops have a slightly more cloying taste than those made from plain fruit or juice -- if it bothers you, switch from all-jam ice pops to a mixture of jam and fruit or juice.
These recipes are geared to ice-pop molds of about one-third of a cup. If your molds have a different capacity, freeze any extra mixture in ice trays to be used in appropriate drinks. Or drink it. Mixed with club soda and ice, the berry and watermelon mixtures make particularly refreshing drinks. SIMPLE SUGAR SYRUP (For use in ice pop recipes)
2 cups sugar
4 cups water (preferably spring water)
Stirring from time to time, heat sugar and water to the boiling point in a heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Cool and refrigerate in covered glass jar until needed. YOGURT-FRUIT ICE POPS (Makes about 8 ice pops)
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1 cup unsweetened pineapple, orange or other fruit juice
1 cup fruit pure'e (if using canned fruit, include syrup)
1 ripe banana
Pure'e all ingredients in blender or food processor. Pour into ice-pop molds and freeze. Run hot water briefly over molds to release ice pops. BASIC BERRY ICE POPS (Makes about 6 ice pops)
1 teaspoon gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 to 1/3 cup simple sugar syrup
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup strawberry, raspberry or blackberry pure'e, made in blender and strained
Stir gelatin into water. Heat 1/4 cup sugar syrup to boiling point, add to gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Mix gelatin/syrup mixture and lemon juice into berry pure'e. Taste. If not sweet enough, add a little more sugar syrup. Pour into ice-pop molds and freeze. Run hot water briefly over molds to release ice pops. WATERMELON ICE POPS (Makes about 8 ice pops)
1 teaspoon gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 to 1/2 cup simple sugar syrup
2 cups watermelon pulp and juice (with seeds removed)
Mix gelatin into water. Heat 1/3 cup sugar syrup to boiling point and stir into gelatin mixture. Set aside to cool. Pure'e watermelon pulp and juice in blender or food processor. Add gelatin/syrup mixture and blend briefly. Taste. If not sweet enough, add a little additional sugar syrup. Pour into ice-pop molds and freeze. Run hot water briefly over molds to release ice pops. PEACHY CREAM ICE POPS (Makes about 6 ice pops)
1 1/4 cup peach pure'e (made in blender with fresh peaches or unsweetened canned peaches with syrup)
1 heaping tablespoon peach or apricot preserves
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 drops almond extract or 1 tablespoon amaretto (optional)
Pour peach pure'e into blender. Add preserves, half-and-half, and almond extract or amaretto (if desired). Blend briefly. Taste and add a little more of the preserves if further sweetening is needed. Pour into ice-pop molds and freeze. Run hot water briefly over molds to release ice pops. JAM OR JELLY ICE POPS (Makes about 4 ice pops)
1/3 cup seedless jam, jelly or preserves (blueberry preserves, guava jelly or whatever strikes your fancy)
1 cup water, approximately (exact quantity depends on sugar content of jam, jelly or preserves)
Simmer jam, jelly or preserves in 1/2 cup water until dissolved. Strain and taste. Add additional water until mixture reaches desired sweetness. Pour into ice-pop molds and freeze. Run hot water briefly over molds to release ice pops. KIR ICE POPS (Makes about 6 ice pops)
1 3/4 cups spring water
1 teaspoon gelatin
2 tablespoons sugar
4 to 5 tablespoons crem'e de cassis*
Measure 1/2 cup water into bowl or small pitcher and stir in gelatin. Bring remaining 1 1/4 cups water and sugar to the boil, pour into gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin dissolves. Allow to cool. Mix in 4 tablespoons cre'me de cassis and taste to make sure flavor is strong enough; add another tablespoon if it is not. Pour into ice-pop molds and freeze. Run hot water briefly over molds to release ice pops.
* Cre'me de menthe or any other vividly colored, intensely flavored liqueur would also make a good ice pop. BANANA ON A STICK (6 servings)
This is an ice pop only in the loosest sense (that is, anything frozen on a stick). Freezing makes a banana seem creamier and tones down its characteristic flavor -- a pleasant surprise to non-banana lovers.
3 large bananas
1/4 to 1/2 cup each of one or more wet toppings: peanut butter, pure'ed fruit, applesauce, flavored yogurt
1/4 to 1/2 cup each of one or more dry toppings: wheat germ, chopped nuts, seeds or coconut
Cut each banana in half horizontally, and insert plastic ice-pop stick into cut end. Place on tray and freeze; when hard, store in an airtight plastic bag. Remove bananas from freezer about 5 minutes before serving so they will thaw slightly. Place each topping in a small bowl (custard cups are perfect). Before each bite, dip end of banana first into a wet topping, then into a dry topping.