Sunday, September 4, 2011

I love popsicles.

I love popsicles. As a kid, I took them any way I could get them. Often, in the summer, that usually meant what we called "freeze pops," brightly hued sugar water that tasted vaguely fruity in plastic sleeves. I was an only child, but on my block, my mom and my friends' parents bought enough so the hoards of playing kids could all have frozen treats without it getting too expensive.

My favorite flavor was pink. I'm not sure what flavor it was supposed to bemaybe strawberrybut I went for those first. I loved letting them melt a bit before sucking the "juice" up the sides of the frozen block, leaving the frozen middle intact. That, and whacking the still-sealed plastic tubes on the counter, or the table, or the front stepswhatever was handyand creating a "slushy" that could be slurped.

My grandma's sister (who I also called Grandma) lived in the suburbs and had a pool, and she a freezer chest on her enclosed back porch. In it could be found a trove of frozen goodies for all the often-visiting kids in the family. There were ice creams with flavors like heavenly hash, which I only ever had at that grandma's house, enjoyed with cousins who would bit the tips of their sugar cones to suck the melted ice cream from. Not me. I slowly savored the ice cream to maximize the time it was in the cone so it would soften around the edges, eating the softened cone before devouring the still-crunchy pointed tip, filled with melty ice cream.

That grandma had exotic popsicles, too. In addition to the standard flavorscherry, grape, orangeshe always had an extra-special box with a crazy-exciting varietybanana, lime, and root beer. I'd usually choose one of those over ice cream. I loved them all, but my favorite was banana. Deep golden yellow and rich-tasting, they were lapped up, even when I was freezing cold, wrapped in a towel after swimming in her pool that was surrounded by tall trees, in the shade, and always very, very cold.

Back in Chicago in the summer, paleta men would come around. The men pushed white carts filled with Mexican-style popsicles kept cold with steamy dry ice. The flavor variety was dizzying, and included fruits and combinations I hadn't heard oftamarindo, jamaica, guayaba. I almost always got one of two flavorssandia, made from fresh watermelon, that had chunks of fruit and sometimes seedsor arroz con lecherice pudding. OK. So rice pudding? Not what I'd expect in a popsicle, but after trying it, it became a fast favoritecreamy with a grainy, sweet-rice flavor, flecked with cinnamon, and studded with soft grains of rice.

When I moved away from Chicago, I kind of stopped eating popsicles. I was off to college, in the land of exotic Ben and Jerry's flavors and frozen custards. In grad school in Wisconsin, it was fruit sherbets. (By the way, why is next to impossible to find natural sherbets in Austin?) Sure, there were occasional popsicles along the way, but they'd lost favor to other frozen desserts. Then, I just didn't eat much ice cream at all. A shame really, but I'd buy a pint of the good stuff, have a small serving, and it the remainder would frost over in the freezer before I got to it again.

Lately, I've been eating popsicles again. It started with a box of fruit pops from the grocery. But I've had my eye out for more, and I've been gobbling up Austin-made GoodPops from the farmers market. And I've been on to more. Frozen yogurt, ice cream, and even some homemade treats. And I'm seriously thinking of buying some paleta molds to try to make my own. (This is pretty serious. I am usually really reluctant to buy any new kitchen equipment unless I NEED it, or it's very, very special.)

But making a batch of homemade paletas can lead to its own problems. The most important one is, who's going to eat them? I fear that even homemade paletas, if they number more than a few, would languish in the freezer until they're too frosty to discern their flavor. But I may be up to the challenge.

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