July is National Ice Cream Month, and you owe it to yourself to celebrate with a homemade frozen treat.
There are packaged brands, like United Dairy, available in grocery stores. There are shops, like Baskin-Robbins, Dairy Queen and Maggie Moo’s.
There are even frozen yogurt parlors, like TCBY.
But specialty homemade ice cream shops are few and far between these days. In fact, there are only a handful in the Mountain State.
The capital city’s downtown icon, Ellen’s Ice Cream, and the tri-state’s favorite, Austin’s Homemade Ice Cream, along old Route 60 in Ceredo, are two.
Ellen’s offers extraordinary flavors, gourmet soups, sandwiches and the feel of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. It even has a stand at the Capitol Market through the summer.
Austin’s — owned and operated by Joyce Snyder for 31 years — has stood the test of time and is still going strong. It’s practically an institution. Her walk-up and drive-through shop gets its fair share of customers from near and far.
“People come from all over the tri-state area,” Snyder said. “People come back to visit like a ritual. Some of my customers are third-generation visitors.”
Snyder says it isn’t the 40 flavors that keep them coming back. It’s the all-natural ingredients, from the dairy base to the fresh fruits and flavorings. She prides herself on providing only the best for her customers.
“I think the secret to our success is that we only use the best ingredients and give our customers top-quality ice cream,” Snyder said. “That’s more important to me than profits.”
Working alongside her grandson, Timothy Ruff, and dedicated employees, Snyder and her crew make about 400 gallons of the frozen delight each week.
“Over last weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — we went through 75 3-gallon buckets,” she said. “We make ice cream three or four days a week, depending on the crowd.”
There’s nothing ordinary about the gourmet blends at Austin’s either. Among their most popular concoctions are cookies and cream, chocolate peanut butter cup, butter pecan and grape pineapple.
“Our signature flavor is grape pineapple,” Snyder said. “No one else makes it, and people come from all over to get it.
“It’s not just the best; it’s famous!”
When Snyder retired from a 20-year career in banking and bought Austin’s, there were 13 flavors. She has personally developed more than 25 others. Her personal favorites are pumpkin (available only in the fall) and butter pecan. On any given day, customers have about 30 flavors to choose from.
And then there are the toppings! Black raspberry puree, creamy peanut butter, fresh strawberries and more.
Austin’s menu includes cones, shakes, freezes and floats, sundaes — they even have a few sugar-free varieties for the health-conscious.
Snyder’s famous cinnamon taco sundae may be her best creation, though. Josh Monday and his crew from Ashland, Kentucky, make the 15-mile trek to Austin’s regularly to get his favorite treat.
“We just always come down here for ice cream,” he said. “The cinnamon taco is the reason why.”
It starts with a fresh-made sugary waffle bowl and two generous scoops of handmade cinnamon ice cream drizzled with honey and sprinkled with mixed nuts.
If that’s not sweet and gooey enough for you, just wait.
There’s whipped cream piled high, topped with rich chocolate sauce, semisweet chocolate chips and a spoonful of cherries.
If you want, Snyder will even sprinkle on a little extra cinnamon.
It’s enough to bring a smile to even the grumpiest face.
And that’s one of the reasons Snyder enjoys her job so much.
“I think this is one of the best businesses to be in,” she said. “It lightens my mood.
“Ice cream makes people happy, especially children,” Snyder continued. “It’s been a delight to see their smiles over the past 31 years.”
The ice cream business is fairly seasonal, and Austin’s is open only from April 1 through Oct. 15.
“Weather makes a huge difference,” Snyder said. “People equate ice cream with sunshine.”
In the off-season, Austin’s is closed and Snyder travels the world.
So, if you want a taste of summer, better hurry to Ceredo — or take a shorter jaunt into downtown Charleston — while the weather is hot and the ice cream is oh so cool and creamy!
For store hours and more information, find Austin’s and Ellen’s on Facebook.
Ice cream history
People have been enjoying ice cream — or something close to it — for thousands of years. According to the International Dairy Foods Association website, Alexander the Great, King Solomon and Nero were eating frozen desserts while they were busy conquering the world long ago.
Until the 1800s, ice cream was reserved for only the rich and famous. These days, it’s available pretty much on demand at fast-food restaurants, dairy bars and in your own kitchen.
According to icecream.com, the average American consumes 6 gallons of ice cream a year.
For people who want to make their own, consumer ice cream makers are widely available. A basic machine has three components: an outer tub which holds ice mixed with salt to lower the temperature, an inner container in which the ingredients are blended, and a churn that rotates inside to stir the mixture until it’s frozen.
The churn may be operated manually — with a hand crank — or electrically — with a small motor.
Ice cream makers come with complete instructions and a recipe or two with quantities especially formulated for the specific unit.
One of my favorite childhood memories is of an Independence Day family picnic when the homemade ice cream didn’t turn out as expected. Apparently, the old hand-crank machine Mom and Dad had been using for years had sprung a leak and some of the salt water used in the freezing process got into the rich, French vanilla-custard chocolate-chip treat.
We kids didn’t mind. We ate that salty ice cream and loved it.