Just last week I agreed to participate in the launch of a new lifestyle magazine. As usual, I tried to make things as complicated as possible. I was going to sell homemade ice cream; and if that was not enough, I offered to demonstrate how to make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
Now I have never participated in any market of any kind, anywhere. I have also never sold homemade ice cream to anyone. And I have never worked with liquid nitrogen in a public place, let alone shown others how it should be done. So I sat down and made a list of all things that could go wrong. It took me only a few minutes to fill two A4 pages with potential problems. It took even less time to figure out that I would have no control over most of these, and thus I promptly postponed everything until the last minute.
From the open market in Okuruyangava I bought 50 medium-sized magunis (singular: eeguni), also known as corky bark monkey oranges (Strychnos cocculoides), or simply monkey oranges. At a dollar each, it is a real bargain. I was given two small ones for free for buying bulk. I just love this place and these traders – my kind of people.
I stopped at my local supermarket for cream, milk and sugar. The prices for the dairy products make me feel faint. If anyone ever has the desire to make affordable ice cream, get a cow or two of your own. Or else, find something else to do.
Back home, the real work starts. Maguni’s have a really thick, tough skin that makes it difficult to open. Maybe, this is the reason it remains one of Africa’s “lost crops”. I grab a cleaver and start by giving each maguni a firm whack. Then, I stick the tip of a heavy knife into the small cut made by the cleaver and cut the tops off. Here comes the second challenge: extracting the juice. I get the contents into the bowl of my stand mixer with the paddle attached. I then mix everything on low in order to break up the flesh somewhat and then pour the contents into a large colander.
Because the maguni has so many large pips, it is not a good idea to put them in a blender or a processor, unless you want to ruin your blade of course. Once the juice has drained, I start pulping the remaining flesh and seeds with a strong hand wisk to extract the last remaining juices. Next I strain the juice through cheesecloth to remove the fibrous flesh.
At this point with about 5 liters of juice (each medium size maguni provides about 100 ml of juice) I start the next step: making the base mix.
Given that I’d be keeping and selling the ice cream outside, and given that it would be hot, and given that children are likely to be some of my best customers, and given that I am pressed for time, eggs might not be a good idea, so I decided to make Philadelphia-style ice cream using only cream, milk and sugar (and maguni juice off course).
Now to get the ratios right – two cups cream, to one cup milk, to half a cup of sugar, and one cup maguni juice. Tastes about right. To help prevent icicles and make the ice cream more stable, I add an1/8th of a teaspoon of xanthan gum per 1 liter of base mix. The first liter-and-a-half goes straight into the ice cream machine to churn, the rest goes into the freezer to chill. The warmer the mix, the longer it takes to churn to the right consistency, so I have to churn the first batch for nearly an hour. Damn home ice cream makers; they do not get cold enough, and not quick enough, despite what the manufacturers tell you. Take my word for it. It was near midnight when I added the last churned batch to the freezer to set.
I learnt a lot that day at the market: about people, about taste and flavours and about the value of entertaining people with food.
I also learned that should you be out at a market on a hot day, make sure you take the stand next to the guy selling cold beer. It is absolutely essential. Take my word for it.
Many Namibians know nothing whatsoever about magunis. Nothing, nada, and that is a big shame. Many of those who saw the fruits at my stand, have never tasted it, and that is a big shame too.
I soon established a sales rhythm. Show someone the fruit. Have them taste the juice. Watch them buy an ice cream, lick it and smile. Most came back once more, and the kids … well they were my best customers.
Kids love to be amazed and entertained. They love things that smoke like a witches’ cauldron. Even more so, if they could stick their little fingers into the cauldron and pull out smooth ice cold ice cream. Even adults do: everyone loves playing with food, so why had we given up on the idea?
In between demonstrations, I did flavour tests. Have strangers taste maguni juice, and record what they taste. Maguni has a very complex flavour profile: some tasted melon, some tasted banana and paw-paw and so it went on. Perhaps the best way to describe the maguni flavour is that it is a tropical fruit salad, and that the dominant flavour is dependent on the taster’s individual palette. But it is tart and sweet at the same time, and very refreshing.
I was covered in perspiration and inspiration. So I enlisted the help of my brewer friend. We quickly whipped up a fresh batch of base mix, added some hazelnut syrup, and a cup of honey bush beer. Whisk, whisk, whisk to get rid of the carbon and foam, and then into the liquid nitrogen. Once the smoke cleared, we had beer-flavoured ice cream! It tasted good too, at least to me, my brewer friend and a few of the local DJs. Some, however, struggled to get their heads around the idea, but at least they admitted that it did not taste bad, just strange. I admit the recipe needs tweaking, but the possibilities are interesting. Right up there, with the tub of bacon-and-egg ice cream that I have in my fridge right now.
I enjoyed my day at the market immensely. I am proud of the fact that I introduced a few Namibians to the maguni and the spectacle of ice cream made with liquid nitrogen.
I wish I was the first to use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream, but I am not, and neither is the modernist or molecular chefs such as Ferran Adria or Heston Blumenthal. That honor belongs to Mrs. Angus Marshall who in 1885 described the process:
“Liquid air will do wonderful things, but as a table adjunct its powers are astonishing, and persons scientifically inclined may perhaps like to amuse and instruct their friends as well as feed them when they invite them to the house. By the aid of liquid oxygen, for example, each guest at a dinner party may make his or her ice cream at the table by simply stirring with a spoon the ingredients of ice cream to which a few drops of liquid air has been added by the servant.”
Here is my recipe for maguni ice cream as I made it for my tasters at the market. You do not have to use liquid nitrogen, but please take care and be safe if you do. We love ice cream but not frost bite.