By Tibby Plasse // Photography by Paulette Phlipot
My father never left the dinner table without a serving of ice cream. My grandmother Gertrude was notorious for polishing off a half-gallon of Breyer’s Neapolitan—the strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla medley that, centuries later, is still a nod to Italian immigrants.
In a laughable attempt, my brother, Keith, who is sixteen years older than me, would pick me up from my all-girls school in his red MG, acting like the cool big brother taking his little sister to Baskin Robbins. He was such a geek of a teenager, but I got endless coffee ice cream sodas out of the deal.
Yes, ice cream decorated my childhood. Still, trying to keep sugar in check in my own adult home is a daily challenge. Homemade ice cream is a disappointment because there is just no good way around using sugar. Popsicles, however, are more forgiving when it comes to ingredient composition—and they maintain a certain level of celebratory mojo, even if they are the healthier alternative. The recipes are just as particular—from gourmet ingredients to perfecting the mold—and you only find that out by failing over and over again (and having your son say they taste like smoothies).
While trying to (re)create my recipes, I reviewed my supply list. Plastic molds were never my first choice, but they were in every grocery store one Fourth of July and I broke down and bought them, BPA and all. The molds went straight to the thrift store, come August, because the popsicles never really seemed to firm up enough to keep the sticks in place. Switching to stainless steel ensured the popsicles kept their form by allowing me to better cool a warmed mixture faster.
But they still tasted like smoothies, according to my kid …
So, I dug back into all my favorite food memories. Eventually, I found myself reminiscing about buying popsicles with my niece at the supermercado when I lived in Costa Rica. The store was located the perfect distance from home to walk, buy a popsicle, and finish it on the return home, during which my niece, Valeria, loved to repeat jokes from Bob Esponja (aka, Spongebob). There were huge freezer bins outside the store’s entrance filled with guava, mango, pineapple, and passionfruit treats. And my three-year-old sobrina loved choosing her own popsicle, and paying for it herself.
That memory pivoted my recipe exploration, turning it from ice cream influences to paletas de aguas (Spanish-influenced ice pops). Focusing mostly on fruit, and simmering down my mixtures, as if making preserves, yielded subtle flavor hints, while still maintaining a good consistency. Due to my not-so-processed sugar obsession, the main sweetener I use is either apple or orange juice concentrate. Some recipes call for agave or date sugar, but the consistency of using fruit concentrates to sweeten other fruit concentrates, I’ve found, is the easiest way to the fulfill the sugar substitute.
I sometimes take a deconstructed approach to popsicle flavors and themes. The practice of layering—adding a layer of pureed fruit, freezing it, and then repeating this until the mold is full—is a type of art form, creating a visually appealing end result. For instance, if I’m aiming for a watermelon motif, I layer watermelon juice with a vanilla and coconut concoction in the middle, and then a kiwi puree for the bottom.
No matter where you find your inspiration—cookbooks, family traditions, or the produce section—popsicles are a luscious way to actualize nostalgia and to keep it close, frozen in time. These cold treats also provide a quintessential way to embrace summer’s warm temperatures, while making a good excuse for a walk around the block or for kicking back in a hammock.
Makes 6 popsicles
The “Grasshopper” is my favorite milkshake from the Victor Emporium. Here, I created a good-girl approach to this mint and Oreo cookie indulgence.
2 cups whole coconut milk
2 pinches ground vanilla bean
¹⁄3 cup apple juice concentrate
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup cacao nibs
- In a skillet, mix coconut milk, vanilla bean, apple juice, and peppermint extract. Simmer for 15 minutes to meld flavors.
- Remove from heat, cool slightly, stir in the honey, and then cool completely.
- Sprinkle the mint and cacao nibs into a spoonful of the mixture, as you ladle it into molds. (This assures the mint stays green and the nibs don’t melt.)
- Insert a popsicle stick into each mold, and place them in the freezer until frozen.
Red, White, and Berry
Makes 6 popsicles
Sometimes the number of steps in a recipe creates a type of kitchen meditation that makes you forget the creation took hours. Plus, no matter what age you are, no one is going to turn down a Fourth of July popsicle.
1 ½ cups strawberries, chopped
1 cup apple juice concentrate
1 ½ cups whole coconut milk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ cups blueberries or huckleberries (Use what’s in season.)
- Combine strawberries and a ½ cup of apple juice in a saucepan. Simmer for 20 minutes to jam consistency. Remove from heat, cool, and puree in a food processor or blender.
- Pour the cooled strawberry mixture evenly into the molds. Cover the molds (use aluminum foil if your popsicle molds do not have covers.) Push the popsicle stick through the foil (or cover) so that it just touches the strawberries. Adjust the aluminum foil to keep the stick standing up straight. Freeze until solid (at least 2 hours).
- Mix the coconut milk and vanilla in a pan and simmer for 15 minutes until flavors meld. Remove from heat, cool slightly, stir in the honey, and then cool completely.
- Pour the mixture evenly into the molds on top of the red layer. Return the molds to the freezer until solid (at least 2 hours).
- Repeat the simmering steps with the dark-colored berries and the other ½ cup of the apple juice.
- Allow mixture to cool, and then puree it in a food processor or blender and pour it evenly on top of the white layer. Return molds to the freezer until solid.
- Once frozen, these fun popsicles are ready to make their debut at your Fourth of July party!
* Recipe adapted from For the Love of Popsicles by Sarah Bond.
El Idaho Pimiento
Makes 6 popsicles
This recipe—a perfect blend of spicy and sweet—is a fiesta waiting to happen. Here, I honor Idaho’s Basque immigrants by using Espelette peppers, giving the popsicles regional authenticity.
3 cups pineapple, chopped
¾ cup orange juice
¾ cup water
1 small jalapeño or Serrano (optional)
2 tablespoons lime juice
¼ teaspoon Piment d’Espelette or paprika, plus extra for dusting
- Mix the pineapple, orange juice, and water in a skillet and simmer for 15 minutes to a jam consistency. (For an extra spicy version, finely chop a jalapeño or Serrano pepper to add to the blend.)
- Remove from heat, cool, and add lime juice and Piment d’Espelette or paprika. Puree in a food processor or blender.
- Fill the molds with the mixture, insert a popsicle stick into each mold, and then place them in the freezer overnight.
- Dust with Piment d’Espelette or paprika before serving.