Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A New Scoop and it's Anything But Vanilla

It was the test that worried me the most.

For the past four months, I’ve been fretting about what, or better yet, how I would do on a test that caps a week-long learning experience on how to make ice cream.

And that result came a few weeks back when I completed my studies at the nation’s oldest classroom instruction devoted to the science behind ice cream making – Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course, offered by the college’s Department of Food Science.

Learning about ice cream properties was part of my personal commitment back in October. Many of you may remember that when I joined the ranks of the unemployed, I promised myself to use this time to explore new opportunities. And that meant going back to school.

I didn’t want to invest many years (and take on a mountain of debt) for an entirely new degree. I wanted to be educated in something that was serious but different – something that would help me in my quest to make outstanding small-batch jams and preserves. After some strong encouragement from my husband-who-hates-farm chores, he essentially said, “don’t live with any regrets.” I signed up that night.

Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course is anything but easy. Its science-based lectures and labs are for those who want and need to make some serious ice cream. I learned fun stuff like the differences between vanilla beans (Tahitian has cherry notes), but there were many hardcore essential classes on pasteurization, refrigeration, regulations and labeling, microbiology, and packaging. My personal nightmare was mix calculations which are, put simply, very important if you want to make a consistent ice cream product. I struggled – and boy did it suck -- but eventually I overcame that section thanks to some very talented, crazy smart teacher assistants.

For me, the course was filled with successes and new ventures that a test cannot measure. Before it began, I promised myself to make the most of this experience and opportunity, and I think I did. I accomplished things I’ve never done before. I ran for class president and lost. I sang karaoke (hey, there's a first for everything) and I participated in a Minute to Win It contest which required me to make an ice cream banana split sundae with one hand (I won a nifty ice scraper for all those frigid California mornings).

At the end of the day, though, something even more extraordinary happened: I tried to be the best student I could be, and that meant I studied. Let me tell you this: the younger Karen-in-her-20s would have done none of the above, especially study.

During its 119-year run, some of the big guns in the world of frozen confections have taken the course: reps from Ben and Jerry's, Baskin and Robbins, Haagen and Dazs – they’ve all graduated from Penn State’s Ice Cream Short Course. And now, I, too, am proud to have joined the ranks.

What's next for Mothercluck and my line of artisanal jams, jellies, and preserves? Why ice cream, of course. I cannot think of anything better than small batch, premium, vanilla ice cream with ribbon-infused fruit freshly made from my line of preserves.

A scoop of heaven, I say!


  1. Oh my gosh what fun! I would simply love to learn all the science behind ice cream making. You should be very proud of yourself. Well done!

  2. karen,
    you ROCK! i had so much fun spending time with you today...can't wait for more!


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