Mexican Ice Cream
Beloved Recipes And Stories
By Fany Gerson
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Fany Gerson: Hi my name is Fany Gerson and I am the author of Mexican Ice Cream Beloved Recipes and Stories.
Suzy Chase: So nice meeting you a few weeks ago at your book release party here in the city at your shop La Newyorkina. Start off with a brief history of Mexican ice cream.
Fany Gerson: Well it was really nice to meet you as well. And I was excited that you were able to come. Well the story of Mexican ice cream really dates back to Pre-Hispanic times. You know they say the first, not ice cream per se, but frozen treats were made by gathering the snow or ice on top of these two volcanoes that are near Mexico City called Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl and so they would carry them down and they had different materials to make sure it didn't melt, they created sort of layers of burlap. They would hold it in these, kind of like boxes that they made. They would bring it down and they would mash up fruits because they're very abundant in Mexico and they would pour them on top and sometimes they were sweetened with natural honeys from insects or plants. So those were sort of the earliest recorded ice cream sort of concoctions that we have in Mexico.
Suzy Chase: Where are you from in Mexico, and what kind of ice cream did you grow up with?
Fany Gerson: I'm from Mexico City and in Mexico City you grow up, I grew up with sort of both worlds. You know like the traditional Mexican ice cream that is still made in many places today which is called nieve de garrafa which is made by hand, it's a hand peddled ice cream with a cylinder that is inside a wooden barrel with ice and salt surrounding it. So but those were more, you know like when we went out to little towns or certain areas of Mexico City but you know there were just traditional ice cream parlors and a lot of paletas de hielo, which are paletas shops with Mexican ice pops that they also have ice cream and sorbet.
Suzy Chase: So tell us the story of how you and your aunt Alex went on your trek outside of Mexico City to find incredible ice cream.
Fany Gerson: So I was in Mexico and I was waiting for my visa for one of my working visas, and I really wanted to find out about Mexican desserts. Not specifically ice cream at the time. And one of my aunts was a teacher, heard from a friend of hers that there's a little turn in the outskirts of Mexico City that sells, famous for ice cream. And I was like what do you mean, I got the how you say the short end of the stick growing up here, nobody told me there was an ice cream town. So we went, my sister, my aunt Alex, and I headed out to this area, they didn't have a specific address or anything and we kept asking people and after a couple of hours we finally go there and it wasn't, there is in the area I had, there are a lot of ice cream vendors, but that particular place that we found was actually, it's not really a town it's in the middle of two towns in a highway and it was about four, maybe three or four blocks long of these wooden barrels you know, sort of side by side that had the most amazing flavors and they had these colorful signs.
And in Mexico a lot of the people come up with their own names for sort of mixes that are very poetic or very funny. You know like because it entices the customer.
Suzy Chase: Do you remember the first flavor you ever had out there?
Fany Gerson: I remember this particular one which was the tres leces ice cream that was really amazing. But the way that they made it is by blending this dessert that we call Chongos Zamoranos and which is a sweetened curdled, like milk curds. They're made in syrup, so they told me that that's how they made it and you know they told me that they went through the process and they used raw milk and that they picked a lot of the fruit from their surroundings. Now I don't know if half of this is true and half of it was just like a selling point, but I can tell you the whole experience definitely changed my life and changed my career and we also had a Maria Cookies ice cream, and I actually tend to be more of a sorbet person, but so we had a lot of sorbet as well. But between the three of us, I think we must have had about, at least like 20 flavors that we tried.
Suzy Chase: At that time you were a pastry chef right?
Fany Gerson: Yes. At that time I was waiting for my visa to work at Rosa Mexicano, and that was actually my first job as a pastry chef. So I guess I was a pastry chef in the making.
Suzy Chase: So was this when you figured out ice cream was your passion on this trip?
Fany Gerson: It wasn't that ice cream was my passion, but it was more that it was, I realized that there were so many, that there must be so many stories like this all around Mexico. People making amazing things which I knew, but you kind of take it for granted because in Mexico you see these amazing people all around whether it's making specific breads or confections and so that's where sort of I would say my, I kept thinking about there's so many stories and so many amazing people and treats that are all around. And so that would, more than specifically ice cream, it was that. But ice cream was definitely the turning point.
Suzy Chase: I found that Mexican ice cream's texture is thicker than American ice cream. Kind of similar to gelato. Talk a little bit about that.
Fany Gerson: Yeah so, Mexican ice cream is much more similar to gelato. So it has less fat than American ice cream and it has less air. So in a way it's thicker, as you say like in the mouth, but it's not denser. It's sort of the way it melts in your mouth, it just it doesn't coat sort of the back of it. And it's really about for the most part about the main flavor. You know so it's not so much about all of these mix ins. And you know if it's strawberry, it celebrates the main ingredient now in modern times there are of course like people are a little bit more playful, but you would go all around Mexico and you will find you know, people looking for a very specific you know whether it's a pineapple or tamarind or you know [inaudible 00:07:56] fresco and so I think that that's very similar to how gelato is. You know you rarely find gelato with mix ins. And I think that it's fascinating.
Suzy Chase: After I had some of your tamarind chile sorbet I realized that I have never had quality sorbet. That was really the most interesting sorbet I've ever had. Can you describe the flavor profile?
Fany Gerson: Of tamarind sorbet?
Suzy Chase: Yes, your tamarind chile sorbet. You can probably explain it better than I can.
Fany Gerson: Well tamarind is actually my favorite sort of sorbet or paletas if I go to Mexico and I try, go to a new place that's always sort of like, you know how people are chocolate people or vanilla?
Suzy Chase: You're tamarind?
Fany Gerson: Tamarind is my to go flavor. So it's a bit sour, tangy, acidic, you know but it has this sort of deep earthiness to it at the same time. It's definitely an acquired taste, it's not ... but people that grew up in tropical climates or people that come from countries like India and Thailand, it's their flavors are very common to us whether it's in ... they're used in savory and sweet preparation so it's like a sweet and sour finish once it comes into a sorbet and then the chiles we use two different types of chiles. We use adobo which gives it the heat, it's quite spicy. And but I don't like things to be spicy just for the sake of being spicy. You know I think it needs to add flavor. So we also use guajillo chile and then a touch of piquillo too. Technically three. And then a bit of salt to just bring it all together.
Suzy Chase: Last night I tried your blueberries and corn, your tres lece, and horchata. Which were all amazing. And I noticed that you have hand paddled ice cream. Tell us about that.
Fany Gerson: Yes. So first I'm so excited you went to the store so I hope you had a great time. And you know, that hand paddled ice cream, the one that I was briefly describing before, it's called nieves de garrafa and it's still a technique that is used all around Mexico and you know it's incredible that even with modern equipment and everything people prefer and they, it's kind of like anything that's hand made has a very particular quality to it and even the technique of how they paddle it is a little bit different depending on where you go. But the main idea of having the bucket with the ice and for the most part in Mexico they get humongous blocks of ice and then they chip it. We try to do it in smaller amounts and we use ice from an ice machine, but now that it's getting warmer we're going to have to do that as well.
And originally I actually wanted to have an ice cream store that had only those kinds of ice cream, you know because to me they're really special but honestly it's very difficult to do it here with how much it costs to make everything that way and I don't think that we could serve supply unless I would charge an incredible amount for all of those ice creams. So I wanted to make sure that we still had some flavors. So it's something that for people that know, get very excited about and they see the barrels and they know what is inside, but that is also something that is not so easy to communicate to the customers, how special it is. It takes about anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour to make one batch of ice cream, one cylinder.
Suzy Chase: You do it by hand.
Fany Gerson: We do it by hand.
Suzy Chase: That seems so back breaking.
Fany Gerson: Like you know, this way we get a work out, we can eat as much ice cream as we can, as we want.
Suzy Chase: Is it hard to procure authentic Mexican ingredients here in the city?
Fany Gerson: There's certain ingredients that are increasingly easier to find. Like hibiscus, although sometimes you do get a hibiscus that they say is Mexican but it comes from China and it just tastes a little bit different. And but you can find a lot of chiles, a lot of you know, just a lot of main ingredients. The hardest thing is the fruits. Like you do find very particular things to Mexico like cactus leaves and cactus petals and avocado leaves and things like that, but there's certain tropical fruits that it's still a little bit hard to get ord the ones that you get are not the best quality or they're frozen or they come to puree but I see that is changing with time and I'm always on the hunt for how I can source. That's the one thing I wish I could just bring a whole truck every week of fresh produce that, of things that don't grow here.
Suzy Chase: In the cook book you have a chapter devoted to modern and inventive takes on Mexican ice cream. You mentioned some crazy flavors like lettuce, shrimp, snake, chorizo, and even Viagra. Talk a little bit about these.
Fany Gerson: People are always trying to do things to stand out of from the rest. And there is a yearly ice cream festival in this area called Xochilimco in the outskirts of Mexico City and that's very close to that little quote un quote town that I found and the festival lasts about a week and then people have some traditional flavors and then they have very wild flavors like the ones you described and it's a way to entice and then not only in that festival but in also in some towns where there's, particularly where there's a lot of competition. You know and then it's just, I'm not gonna say that they're always successful, or always tasty, but it's definitely very inventive, and you know I think in Mexican culture it's very playful you know, even in ice cream even though it's like a serious craft, people don't take it themselves too seriously, so you know you can see that reflected in the flavors but also in the names that a lot of these ice creams have.
Suzy Chase: At your book release party I had such a nice conversation with your husband Danny about your dinner at Noma Mexico. He really knows food. Now how is he involved in the ice cream business?
Fany Gerson: He wears a lot of hats. You know so first and foremost he's like my biggest cheerleader and supporter. And then he makes all the purchasing and with my direct contact through to the kitchen, anything that I need to convey or goes in on a hunt for a specific, I'll be saying oh I want to get some obscure fruit that I heard that is now available so he helps me hunt it down. And then he also helps me sort of ground me, because I'll be like oh I want to do this and this and that and he's like, you know that might be too expensive or you know, maybe you want to do this. So it's you know, he helps me out in operations but also bounce off ideas and just helps me run the company so that I'm allowed to sort of focus on the things that I feel I'm better at, which is more of the creative side and the research and the customer aspect.
Suzy Chase: So before we wrap up, I want to mention Justin Walker who did photography for this cook book. And he just won an American photography award for the image of your gorgeous spicy watermelon sorbet on page 124, that's so exciting.
Fany Gerson: Yes, I was so excited I didn't even know that he had entered it. You know? And so that was very exciting. And I actually had two photographers in the book. So Justin and I have been friends for a long time and been wanting to work together so it's very excited that you know, we were able to finally do this project and it was really amazing and so he did all of the photographs that we took in New York, like that we stylized, but we really wanted to, I think it was really great because he brought a very new perspective and we push, you know I kept sort of pushing the boundaries when we were organizing it. So this is not your typical you know ice cream book. This has to transport you to Mexico and this has to be, you know, playful and fun and colorful and that particular photo is one of my favorites.
And then we had another photographer, Fernando Gomez he is a Mexican photographer, a food photographer, from Mexico because it was very important to me to capture you know the people making it. The people enjoying it, sort of too, the idea of these two photographers working even though they never met, it really there was a beautiful synergy that happened that helped tell the story in my view of how incredibly diverse and interesting these ice creams are. So yeah, you didn't get a chance to meet Fernando but I hope that when he comes to visit me you get a chance to meet him as well.
Suzy Chase: What's up next for you and where can we find you in New York City and where can we find you on the web?
Fany Gerson: I opened the La Newyorkina shop last October, so this is going to be our first Summer. So it's really about continuing to do very interesting things that I keep having in my mind that, different things are going to evolve within the store. We're also opening a kiosk at Astor place. And hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we've been waiting for a long time for electricity and permits and things like that, and we're gonna be opening up in a market that is opening up, we're not allowed to really to say yet, sort of the details, but it will be in Williamsburg and I'm starting to explore the possibility of opening in the West Coast somewhere but you know, one thing at a time. And for now just really continue sharing the sweetness of Mexico which is my main purpose and continue to do research and just to share my love for my country.
Suzy Chase: And give us your website.
Fany Gerson: Www.lanewyorkina.com and that's spelled L-A New York spelled out, I-N-A.
Suzy Chase: Thanks Fany for coming on cookery by the book podcast.
Fany Gerson: Thank you so much.
Suzy Chase: Subscribe in Itunes and follow me on Instagram at Cookery by the Book on Twitter at IamSuzyChase thank you so much for listening to Cookery by the Book podcast.