Written by Liz Tarpy
I’ve spent my lifetime pondering the meaning of this one small word, rolling it around in my mouth like one of the butterscotch candies my grandfather kept in a crystal jar on the living room hutch. It’s sweet, but shatters if you bite too hard. Translucent, yet cloudy.
For a significant portion of my childhood, home was central PA. Lewisburg, to be exact. A picturesque town on the mighty Susquehanna River flanked by two major institutions: Bucknell University (where my father taught) and a federal penitentiary (where Jimmy Hoffa once resided).
In between them held the many houses I moved in and out of like a snail as my family changed shape and size from divorce. Home only meant a bed and quiet rooms. I longed for a place where I felt accepted, where it was simple, where I could just be a kid.
One of the few comforts during those troubled times was a tall cone of pale pink teaberry ice cream. Most people know teaberry as a gum, introduced and manufactured in Pittsburgh by the D.L. Clark Company in the early 20th century.
The woody ground cover grows from New England to other northeastern parts of the U.S. and Canada, and its leaves are used to make the extracts that flavor the gum and ice cream.
That it tastes minty is no surprise, given its wintergreen plant family of origin. It seems that the D.L. Clark Company is responsible for bringing teaberry into its regional glory, but I’m not sure why it never took hold in other ice cream parlors outside PA. All I knew was people in my hometown, including me, loved it with a frenzy.
My friends and I got our teaberry fix in town at Bechtel’s Dairy (now closed, but once loved by all and easily recognizable from Route 15 by the large cow on the roof) or by begging someone to drive us out Route 45 to Dock View Dairy, where you ordered at a barn window and watched real cows graze nearby.
I liked the ice cream’s clean, refreshing flavor. There were no pieces of candy or cookies to bog it down. Teaberry could stand on its own and deliver pure joy.
I didn’t know it then, as I licked counterclockwise from the bottom up, but that cone rooted me to the same darn place that otherwise felt disruptive and unforgiving. I found something I could identify with, something that made me happy, something like home. Teaberry was a taste that healed.
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon teaberry extract
- 3 drops red food coloring
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- Crack a tray of ice cubes into a large metal bowl and fill about a third of the way with cold water. Have a mesh strainer over a glass bowl nearby.
- Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until it just begins to bubble; do not let it boil.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow. Once the milk bubbles, turn off the heat.
- Stir in the teaberry extract.
- Take a ladle of warm milk and drip it into the egg yolks. Whisk together. This brings the egg yolks to the milk’s temperature so they won’t curdle when added to the saucepan.
- Now pour the yolks into the saucepan, turn the heat back to low, and stir with a rubber spatula—scrape the sides of the pan as well. Cook until an instant-read thermometer reads 170 degrees F.
- Pour the custard into the strainer over the glass bowl. Put the bowl into the ice water. Stir the custard with the spatula until it cools down.
- Once cool, wipe the bottom of the bowl, cover with plastic, and chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours and up to overnight.
- Pour the chilled custard into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Liz Tarpy is a freelance recipe developer, culinary researcher, recipe editor, and writer. Her love of cheese might exceed her love of a certain BBQ potato chip from her hometown. But she also adores vegetables. Read more at teaberryproductions.com.