Ellen Beal told me to try the lavender ice cream and then the rocky road. Both were featured flavors this month at Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream.
The rocky road was brilliant, like the best version of an old favorite, but I wasn’t sure what to make of the lavender.
I wasn’t against it, but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything lavender flavored.
I bake and years ago, I had a cookie cookbook with a recipe for some kind of “romantic” lavender scones.
I was trying to impress and went all over the county trying to locate cooking lavender. It didn’t go well and ended with me standing next to the store manager at a health food store as she fruitlessly wasted 10 minutes on the phone with her supplier trying to track down the ingredient.
After a second taste of the lavender ice cream, I thought this would make a very strange sundae and I couldn’t imagine it in a milkshake — but maybe with some rum?
That seemed promising but Ellen turning her cute little ice cream shop into a craft alcoholic milkshake bar sounded impossible.
Through this month of learning about ice cream and having a taste of day-to-day life at Charleston’s most beloved ice cream shop, I’d tried to keep my actual ice cream consumption modest.
The calories add up and there are only so many miles I can run to burn it all off. Ellen didn’t have that kind of a problem. Many days she bicycles to work and stays in motion at the shop.
We were sampling flavors because it was a mostly cloudy afternoon and a little chilly, not exactly prime ice cream weather, though customers were coming in.
Some were old friends returning after a lengthy absence either because of the season (people buy less ice cream in the winters) or the pandemic (people buy less ice cream when they never leave their houses).
Ellen all but hugged a group of Catholic school kids who got three Oreo milkshakes and a grilled cheese sandwich.
“I missed them,” she said off-handedly.
While we filled an order for the University of Charleston, Ellen got a text on her phone that caused her to pause. She wanted to answer it, but didn’t really have time to answer it, so she showed it to me.
I recognized the text as being in French. I flunked two semesters of it — one in high school and then another in college because I didn’t feel bad enough about it the first time.
“You get texts from France?” I asked.
Ellen shrugged and explained that she’d been taking French lessons for a while. Last year, she’d intended to travel to France to attend an immersion language program, but then the pandemic threw a wrench in everyone’s plans.
Ellen hoped to get to the school eventually. In the meantime, she was taking weekly classes online through Zoom.
“The thing I don’t like about it is we’ll speak French for an hour and then its over,” she said. “I’ll be all geared up to talk and there’ll be no one to talk to.”
I wondered briefly if that had been my trouble with learning a foreign language, but no, I was lazy. In college, I’d also discovered beer.
I told Ellen that I’d been making some ice cream at home. I’d had minor success with a candy bar ice cream recipe and then moved on to a creamy, peanut curry.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” I said. “It had a little heat to it, but not like cinnamon. The flavors went well together.”
It wasn’t hard to make, and my kid even liked it.
Ellen nodded politely but did not ask me to bring her the recipe. I don’t imagine there’s much of a market for curry ice cream. Besides, there might be a storage issue.
Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream keeps a lid on the mint chocolate chip to prevent the mint from interfering with the other flavors in the freezer. I imagine they’d have to put a cinder block on top of the lid of a spicy curry-based ice cream.
Still, I thought it was pretty good and easier than the carrot cake ice cream I was messing with. Carrot cake sounded a little more mainstream, but the recipe had more steps than a clogging competition.
I had my doubts it was going to turn out.
Around the store, I helped as best I could without being completely in the way.
The young women working behind the counter were veteran ice cream shop employees. They knew where everything was, how things went together and what was supposed to happen after each order was completed.
I was doing pretty good just to scoop ice cream into cups.
Between scoops and customers, I kept trying flavors.
I tried the coconut — a winner, which would pair with chocolate.
From another cooler, I had the Fruiti di Bosco gelato and the lime gelato.
Ellen explained that the different ice creams were separated and sorted into the different coolers based on texture. The gelatos were kept together in one cooler. The sorbets were in another.
Some treats needed to be cooler than others to prevent them from becoming “goopy.”
Ellen had to tell me what the berries were in the Fruiti di Bosco. I knew it was a berry ice cream, but couldn’t identify them until she named them: blackberry, blueberry and currant.
Then they just sort of appeared.
I even gave the mint chocolate chip a shot. It reminded me of a peppermint patty, which would delight many, but is like a garlic bagel to a vampire.
I’m on the record for not being a fan of mint.
“Well, you gave it a try,” Ellen said.
Some people you just can’t reach.
As we scooped ice cream and sold the occasional bowl of soup, a small family stopped in for a treat. The kids and the mother got ice cream and a smoothie, while the father of this little troupe stayed back.
After everyone else had chosen something and gone back outside to eat on the sidewalk, he came back in to order, having made up his mind.
He wanted a fruit smoothie, but without all the sugar he expected from an American dessert. He wanted something similar to what he might get home, in France.
It was a very weird coincidence.
Ellen made him the smoothie and then delightedly chatted in French with the man for a minute or two before he left.
Finally, Ellen asked me, “Have you ever had the rosemary lemon sorbet?”
Of course not.
My tendency is to get things like peanut butter and chocolate or chocolate with a bunch of candy and/or nuts mashed into it. The last sorbet I remember trying was a blood orange sorbet from Kroger’s.
I love blood oranges and thought it would be fun and refreshing.
It tasted exactly like a carton of frozen orange juice concentrate. I got down two tablespoons and then tossed it.
For the rosemary lemon sorbet, Ellen fished a tiny plastic spoon out of a bag of dozens beneath the counter, scooped out a little and then handed me the sample.
“Well?” Ellen asked.
“It tastes like summer,” I said.