The nostalgic hand cranking of ice cream on the back porch may be in for a revival. Chemical engineering certainly makes a decent store-bought ice cream, but nothing can beat the taste of making up your own -- a simple art of combining good, sweet heavy cream, sugar, eggs and the flavoring of choice -- for an outrageously rich, cool and smooth dessert.

Producing you own ice cream at home, made by customizing the flavorings and introducing ingredients that may not be available commercially, is a wonderful addiction. The ice cream will be dense and unctuous, and free from the stabilizers and emulsifiers found in the commercial product.

Where to start? Begin by cranking out a good vanilla ice cream, and once you've brought that to perfection, enlarging the repertoire of flavors becomes just a variation away.

My favorite vanilla ice cream -- made with a custard base and both light and heavy cream -- is creamy colored and lightly tinged with egg yolks. It is uniformly smooth and silky. It is best when the liquid ice-cream base has been chilled overnight in the refrigerator so that all of the flavors have a chance to deepen and blossom.

This Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream takes well to including a large palette of flavors and flavorings, which have been outlined in the variations that follow the master recipe.

Fruit pure'e, along with chopped pieces of fruit (made from ripe plums, peaches, blueberries, nectarines, papayas, mangoes and apricots) are seasonal treats that perk up the traditional vanilla flavor. But pieces of molasses taffy, chopped up candy bars, pieces of homemade cookies, nesselrode or tutti-frutti (that me'lange of fruit soaked in rum) would not be amiss, either.

As to the extent of variation, Miller's Ice Cream Parlor (in Eaton Rapids, Mich.) created a flavor called Pickles and Ice Cream, a curiosity that probably appealed largely to pregnant women, if them.

Pickles aside, here's my best formula for a lovely Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, followed by 10 twists on the theme that impart a fine, luxurious taste to the basic recipe: CREAMY VANILLA ICE CREAM (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

2 cups light cream

1 cup less two tablespoons sugar

5 large or extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, or the scraping from the inside of 1 small vanilla bean

2 cups whipping cream

Scald light cream in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. While the cream is scalding, prepare the sugar and egg yolks: In another heavy saucepan (preferrably enameled cast iron), whisk together the sugar, salt and egg yolks. At first the mixture will seem slightly thick, but as the sugar melts down a bit the mixture will liquefy slightly.

Strain the hot cream into the egg yolk and sugar mixture, a little at a time, whisking in the cream thoroughly before you add the next portion. Set the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a light custard is formed (it should coat the back of a spoon in a thin, even layer). Be careful not to bring it near boiling, or it will curdle.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately stir in the vanilla extract or bean scrapings. Cool completely. Stir in the whipping cream. Pour into a container, seal and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Freeze in an electric or hand-cranked ice cream machine according to the directions supplied by the manufacturer. Variations

Peach: Pure'e the flesh of 4 large peaches and cut up the flesh from 2 large peaches into small chunks. Blend both together and season with 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, blend in the peach mixture and continue the freezing process.

Ginger: Blend together 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/3 cup chopped ginger preserved in syrup and 4 tablespoons of the syrup from the preserved ginger. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, blend in the ginger mixture and continue the freezing process.

Peppermint: Reduce the sugar in the Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream recipe to 1/2 cup. Combine 1 teaspoon peppermint extract (available at health food stores) and 1 cup finely crushed peppermint stick candy. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the peppermint candy mixture and continue the freezing process.

Plum: Pure'e the flesh of 8 ripe plums and combine with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, blend in the plum mixture and continue the freezing process.

Chestnut: Reduce the sugar in the Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream recipe to 3/4 cup. Combine 1/2 cup chopped chestnuts preserved in syrup, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 3 tablespoons of the syrup from the preserved chestnuts. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the chestnut mixture and continue the freezing process.

Maple-Walnut: Reduce the sugar in the recipe for Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream to 3/4 cup. Combine 1/4 cup maple syrup and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted; let stand for 15 minutes. Halfway through the freezing process for Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the maple-walnut mixture and continue the freezing process.

Candy Bar: Lightly crush and break into small pieces enough candy bars of your choice to make 1 cup of crushed candy bar (it is easier to break up most candy bars if they are partially frozen first). Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the candy bar pieces and continue the freezing process.

Nut Brittle: Pulverize 1/4 pound of nut brittle (peanut, walnut, macadamia nut) and coursely chop another 1/4 pound of the same nut brittle; combine the two consistencies of brittle. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the nut brittle and continue the freezing process.

Coconut Macaroon: Blend 2 teaspoons of pure coconut extract (available at health food stores) along with the vanilla extract or vanilla bean scrapings into the warm custard mixture. Break up enough chewy coconut macaroons to make 1 cup. Halfway through the freezing time of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the macaroon pieces and continue the freezing process.

Nectarine: Pure'e the flesh of 3 nectarines and coarsely chop the flesh of 2 nectarines with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice and a pinch of ground cloves. Halfway through the freezing process of Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream, add the fruit mixture and continue the freezing process.