It was no small task, one that took a lot of preparation, hand-cranking, and encouragement from the younger children to "keep on cranking." They wanted ice cream, and although they wanted it now, they knew that making ice cream took an eternity (it seemed) though it was actually about 30 to 45 minutes.
Because cranking the ice cream churn is what it was all about.
People didn't use to go out and buy ice cream. They had a big ice cream freezer, which consisted of a metal cylinder hanging vertically inside a wooden bucket. You mixed together the ice cream ingredients: cream, eggs, vanilla extract, and sugar, and then poured it into the cylinder. You placed the metal cylinder into the wooden bucket, suspending it from a metal arch that contained within it the cranking gears which were attached to a large hand crank, about a foot long, that jutted out the side of the metal arch and hung down alongside the wooden bucket.
Then you poured crushed ice into the space between the metal can and the interior of the wooden bucket, and on top of that, you poured ice cream salt. The salt made the ice melt, the coldness from the melting ice went through the metal cylinder walls and starting freezing the cream mixture.
Then the cranking began. The cranking was fast and easy at first, and gradually became harder and harder. Why was that? Well, inside the metal can were a set of paddles affixed to a vertical shaft. The hand crank turned the gears on top of the metal cylinder, the rotating action was transferred to the paddles, and the paddles going around and around kept stirring and stirring the ice cream mixture.
The hand cranking continued. More ice was added to the space between the bucket and the cylinder. More salt was added to the ice. It melted. The ice cream mixture got colder. It gradually froze, making the cranking of the paddles around harder.
A Covington woman in the early 1900's takes a turn at the cranking
At some point in time, either when you ran out of people to continue the cranking or it got too hard to crank any further (or maybe when the younger kids started jumping up and down and screaming "It's ready! It's ready!), then you pulled the metal can out of the ice, opened the top, carefully pulled the set of paddles out of the frozen ice cream, and started the delightful process of spooning out servings into the bowls and cups for the reward.
It was a great way to spend a summer afternoon, sitting on the porch with the parents, the siblings, and a couple of cousins, eating a couple of scoops of homemade ice cream. Then the debate began on who did the most cranking, who did the best cranking, and especially who got to eat the ice cream still clinging to the paddles. If you got to do that, it was a special gift, and you were a most favored child.
Then more drug stores offered ice cream parlors with soda foundation drinks, and the homemade ice cream family team efforts began fading away.