Most of us take vacations for granted today. I know I do. Growing up, I can’t remember my father or any of my relatives taking one. Back then it was hard enough to raise a family by working every day, without taking a week or so off without pay. The closest thing to a vacation my folks had was a weekend off from work such as on the Fourth of July or Labor Day.
Our families would all get together to cook barbeque and make homemade ice cream whenever one of those special weekend holidays came around. That’s about as much of a vacation as I remember. I was a kid then and didn’t realize that on these holidays in the summer, we were making memories that would last a life time. We just knew that our parents didn’t have to work that weekend.
My dad and a couple of uncles would fire up their old black smoker grills they had made themselves out of 55 gallon drums. The grills had handles on each side of the grate to make it easy to lift off and add more coals to the fire. All three grills had fancy smoke stacks on top that allowed smoke to escape and permeate the neighborhood.
Early in the morning of the selected holiday, they would start burning hickory wood in a shallow pit they had dug. As the fire grew hotter and produced white-hot embers, they would shovel these coals out of the fire and empty them into the bottom of the barbeque grill. This produced the heat that would cook the pork shoulders that would provide that evening’s meal. Cooking several pork shoulders this way was an all day job!
Usually there would be several invited friends who would bring their families over later in the afternoon for the festivities, including horseshoes and badminton. If the wind was blowing in the direction of town, there would usually be two or three uninvited guests who where just following the aroma of the smoke emanating from the smokers, sort of in a daze like zombies.
As the afternoon waned, the men would take the shoulders off the grill and begin tearing them apart, adding secret barbeque sauces to the cooling meat. After the outdoor tables were covered with table cloths, they were filled with boiled corn, potato salad, baked beans, tomatoes, Cole slaw and an assortment of canned pickles. The adults always had a hard time keeping us kids away from the tables until it was time to eat.
It was almost dark be the time we would finish eating and the men would get out the ice cream freezers while the women folk would be in the kitchen making the ice cream mixes. My mother always made vanilla; my Aunt Helen would mix up bananas in her bowl while my Aunt Vida would do her magic with a can of peaches.
As soon as the mixtures of milk, condensed milk, eggs and sugar were made and put in the freezer, the ice was packed in the tubs and powdered with ice cream salt. The men started turning the handles of the ice cream freezers, then allowing some of us boys to do some of the work. As kids will, we soon became bored and turned the job back over to the adults who had stronger arms and more patience than us.
Ice cream companies have slogans such as “Tastes Just Like Home Made” and “Real Homemade Taste!” I venture to guess that none of the people who wrote those words ever tasted ice cream as delicious as those made by those old hand cranked ice cream machines. Eating ice cream made by our own hands was the culmination of a vacation-like weekend. I don’t have words to sufficiently record the wonders of those barbeque sandwiches and bowls of ice cream made under the apple trees many years ago in our back yard, but I remember them well!
Bob Alexander is well experienced in outdoor cooking, fishing and leisure living. Bob is also the author and owner of this article. Visit his sites at: