Another Side of Ice From our Hidden Kitchens Texas Hotline, Karl Stephan, whose great-uncle was in the ice business, called to tell us his story and to share some of his grandmother's recipes.
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Another Side of Ice

Karl Stephan cranks his ice-cream maker. Scroll down for his recipes for homemade peach ice cream and pound cake. Courtesy Karl Stephan hide caption

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Courtesy Karl Stephan

Ice made my great-uncle a millionaire. Ida, one of my grandmother's five sisters, escaped the drudgery of the boarding-house kitchen when she married a man from Louisiana named Stephenson.

Stephenson was like King Midas, only everything he touched turned to ice, not gold. He built or bought ice plants and power plants all over South Texas. By 1928, my grandmother's whole family was working for him, or living with him and his relatives, in and around San Antonio.


Remembering 'Big Mother'

"Being good Southerners, we were taught to call our grandmother Nena Stephan, 'Big Mother.' She grew up in East Texas around Nacogdoches, and worked in a boarding house run by her parents.


"Lumberjacks and oilfield roughnecks came home hungry, and she and her sisters learned how to make biscuits, gravy, fried chicken, coconut pie, and anything else to eat that made their boarders happy.


"If the food in a boarding house wasn't any good, you couldn't keep good tenants, and so there may have been a hard economic motive for her to learn how to cook large quantities of outstanding Southern cuisine.


"At any rate, however she learned, she never forgot, and her cooking was legendary among our family and friends." — Karl Stephan

Karl Stephan's message to the 'Hidden Kitchens' hotline

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That winter, Stephenson decided to sell most of his properties to a group of smart Northern investors, who paid more than $2 million in cash for his ice empire. Then he died, and the stock market crashed, and that was the end of the Northern investors. But not before Aunt Ida got her money.

Hidden Kitchens

Besides the $2 million, Aunt Ida was left with a few ice plants, including a new one Stephenson had bought in Fort Worth. She sent my grandfather up there to run it. The iceman's wife got free ice, so I'm sure that's how my father's family got so used to making ice cream there on the back porch in the summertime. Not to mention the coconut pie with the recipe that starts out, 'Place the coconut on a hard, flat surface such as a rock, and strike it smartly with the hatchet,' or the fried-chicken recipe that takes two days.

Along came electricity, and electric refrigerators, and the iceman faded from the scene. When my grandfather died in 1946, the ice plant had been shut down for years. Aunt Ida knew nothing about making money, but she liked giving it away. By the time I came along, there was nothing left but memories, a few old pictures, and that green bucket we made ice cream in, the old-fashioned way.

Homemade Peach Ice Cream

I had no idea the cooking was so much work. All I knew about was the cranking part. And the recipe leaves out one little detail that everybody knew about, which is to mix rock salt in with the ice. That makes it colder than the freezing point of pure water, so the ice and salt mixture can take the heat out of the ice cream mixture and get it to freeze. Otherwise you could crank till Doomsday and get nothing but cold custard.

1 quart milk

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 pint cream

Vanilla extract

Peel six or eight peaches. Slice and cut into small pieces.

Sprinkle with handful of sugar and allow mixture to set in refrigerator several hours while sugar dissolves.

Put milk in double boiler; add four cups of sugar and scald until sugar is thoroughly dissolved.

Then add beaten egg yolks. Cook until like custard.

Remove from heat and stir in well-beaten egg whites.

Mix 1 pint of cream, vanilla flavoring (about 1 1/2 tsp.) and the peaches, which have been chilling in the refrigerator.

Mix all ingredients together. Then pour the mixture into the canister which has been placed inside the ice cream bucket.

Surround the bucket with ice.

Fit the crank into position atop the bucket.

Turn the crank until mixture is frozen.

Pound Cake

(1/2 of this recipe makes a good-size cake)

Not only do I recall this as one of my favorite desserts, snacks, or all-around rewards for being a grandson at Big Mother's, I can see the scale she used to weigh the flour, sugar, butter and eggs. It was an ancient, metal thing that had once been painted green. The black pointer on the dial stuck out from the middle of the front like a clock with no glass in front of the face. You could barely read the markings on the dial, but it still worked -- at least until she let me borrow it to play with. That wasn't the only piece of antique machinery that Big Mother sacrificed to my insatiable destructive mechanical curiosity. But even after the episode with the scale, she could still make great pound cake. I think she'd gotten to where she could do it by eye.

Use scales and weigh all ingredients.

1 lb. flour

1 lb. sugar

1 lb. butter

1 lb. eggs

1 tsp. almond extract

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat well.

Continue beating while gradually adding sugar.

Add flour alternately with eggs.

Bake 350 for 40 minutes.