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I must have been 6 or 7 years old. It was a time when you chose your cereal based on what toy was buried beneath the flakes, crispy crunchies or marbits. Without any special toy surprises, I was more of an Apple Jacks man at the time, but Fruity Pebbles had an offer worth leaving Kellogg’s for Post.
It was nothing more than a cheap piece of plastic with a stick affixed to the corner, but I was proud as a peacock of my very own Fred Flintstone popsicle mold. Truth be known, I’d have preferred the Barney Rubble model. I’ve never been the tall one, so I tend to root for the short guy, but either way, I was and still am a natural born Stones fan. You may also deduce that I’m a true fan of popsicles.
That may have been my first step into the world of cooking, or at least prepping. I took to making my popsicles in my grandmother’s freezer just a couple houses down. Seems my sister, or possibly a kid my mom used to babysit, was occasionally swiping Fred’s frozen visage. In the safety of my grandmother’s house, my young mind could work feverishly to find anything flavorful and worth freezing. It started with Kool-Aid. After that I tried fruit juices, Coca-Cola, sweet tea and even pickle juice!
Perhaps I was ahead of my time. Gourmet pops are still the rage in the heat-driven insanity of our beautiful city. Do not for an instant think I’m not a fan of trashy, cheap, syrupy sticks from the discount stores. I love how the flavors don’t match the descriptions, but are still somehow good. I used to despise banana popsicles, but I came around about three years ago to embrace the icy, Now and Later chemical taste to which I turned up my nose as a child. Trashy pops are totally fun, even when not as good as my sweet tea Flintstone.
Commercially, Frios Gourmet Pops come to mind. Though they may seem a little on the pricey side, they are fantastic. How about we save some bucks and let our imaginations run wild as we make our own? This should be easy, fun and delicious. All we need are popsicle molds and a generous helping of creativity. Try to find something a little larger than that cereal box toy.
Think of regular popsicle flavors or even snow cone flavors. Cherry, grape, banana, peach, strawberry … those are classics, right? Well, let’s make them better. Instead of buying powdered drink mix, let’s get the actual fruit and the accompanying juice, if needed. The two ways we are looking at today are to either fire up the Vitamix or freeze the fruit in some sort of juice or other liquid.
You could use the same juice as the fruit or mix and match. It’s easy to buy grapes and grape juice, but good luck finding banana juice for your banana pop. Banana is great with orange or pineapple juice. Pineapples, on the other hand, may go better with fatty coconut milk. If you want a straight flavor but have no juice, add water and a touch of sugar to the blender to thin out your pitted cherries or mangos.
Some fruits are sweet enough, but should we need more sweetness, we don’t always have to turn to sugar for help. Local honey is a great way to regionalize your pops. Try honey from different areas. They are not all created equal. A floral tasting honey may open up an otherwise dark flavor while a sweeter honey could tone down tartness.
Blueberry or strawberry with lemonade is an easy pairing. Think of what you like to drink and make it edible. Strawberry and kiwi are a good combo. Peach and tea belong together, but try leaving the peel on the peach. Just pit it and dice it.
Think sweet and spicy to get exotic. Habanero and mango are a good salsa combo, so they must be great in a pop. Jalapeño could go with anything from lime to watermelon, the sweeter the better, but I’m not in the mood to get too savory. Avocado takes on the flavor of almost anything you put with it. It can be sweet and creamy with fruit juice or salty and spicy with peppers.
When is the last time you had a Coke float? Or root beer? Let the soft drinks get flat before you freeze them, but by all means use them. I am a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to real-sugar sodas. A longneck Nehi Peach and vanilla bean ice cream is heavenly. If you want to make layers, simply freeze in stages. It’s time consuming, but pretty. It’s also worth it.
It may not be obvious, but herbs can really make these popsicles stand out. Consider basil, cilantro and mint as viable options. Basil is great in fruit salads, but best with strawberries, lemon, lime and grated ginger. Cilantro is great with lime, cucumber or maybe even coconut. Mint may be the most versatile in this setting. I love it with watermelon, but almost any fruit will do well accompanying mint.
Popsicles aren’t for children only. You knew alcohol would come into play. It may be odd to have a martini or gin and tonic pop, but I’m willing to try. Dip the stick in vermouth. It’s a cinch to freeze a margarita or whisky sour, so let’s go a step further. My vote is for Champagne and pomegranate seeds. Limoncello would be great if you can get it to freeze, so maybe cut it with some lemonade. If you manage to make a pitcher of sangria this summer, by all means freeze some.
It’s already in the 90s outside of MacDonald Laboratories and Lagniappe Test Kitchen. I’m open to ideas if you have anything better than Fred and Barney. Stay cool.
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