Bugs in a Boat and Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

When Queen Anne neighbor Rob Gardiner offered to make ice cream with the class, I leapt at the chance. Years ago, Rob brought his swing dancing group to the farmers market I was directing, and I recall how charming it was, on a lovely day in May, to see people dancing on the sidewalk as our vendors set out their radishes and sweet peas. Here’s some video from that event. Rob would not be able to recreate that magic, exactly, but ice cream from scratch is not a bad substitute.

We discussed different flavors and settled on pumpkin spice, in keeping with the season and current craze for all things pumpkin-spicey (Google it if you dare). I briefly considered roasting a squash and making the puree, but if you’ve done this, you know pumpkin can be fickle, often too watery or stringy, unless you are lucky enough to know a farmer who grows Winter Luxury pumpkins, which make a reliably beautiful and tasty puree. As my two Winter Luxury squash are destined for Thanksgiving, canned pumpkin, (actually a mix of squashes), would have to do.

Winter luxury squash, photo by Seed Savers Exchange

While Rob assembled his mise en place, the kids made Bugs in a Boat, a variation of Ants on a Log (celery sticks with peanut butter, topped with raisins, dried cranberries, and peanuts). They washed it down with unsweetened herbal tea. Yes, you read that right. Unsweetened. I’d been warned that kids would refuse tea that lacked honey or sugar, but having had success at home, I wasn’t too concerned. Mildly fruity water may even be a welcome pause from the sugary beverages they are offered 24/7, from juice boxes and “Vitamin Water” to sports drinks and sweetened milks.

It’s musical
Tazo’s Passion tea (with hibiscus, orange peel, and licorice) is mild, red, and frankly, fun to play with. Tea is as much ritual as beverage: unwrapping the teabag like a little present, dipping it into a cup, waiting for the kettle to whistle, pouring the water, watching it take on color, testing it, adding an ice cube if it’s too hot. What’s not to like? It’s a small lesson in mindfulness, and the class kitchen’s vintage Revere kettles are pretty fun, too.

Blood sugar stabilized, the kids were ready to review the recipe, practice doubling it on paper (math! fractions!), and discuss the ingredients line by line. This is a fun exercise, as almost every ingredient is processed in some way, even if only by washing. But is canning pumpkin preferable to freezing? How much processing does cinnamon require? How is organic sugar different? Recipe review is one of my favorite parts of the class, as the kids are eager participants. We don’t always have the answers, but the practice of asking is a good thing in itself.

Rob, with his student sous chef Chloe, then demonstrated several techniques: how to warm eggs that are cold from the refrigerator by placing them in a bowl of hot (but not boiling) water, how to use an egg separator, how to grate cinnamon and nutmeg on a microplane, how to prepare a double boiler, how to temper eggs, and two different ways to determine when a custard is done (by appearance for the pro, by thermometer for the rest of us). 

Student brainstorm

Rob also gave the kids some fun facts about ice cream history and varieties. Given time constraints, we skipped the ice bath to cool the custard, and Rob poured it warm into his nifty compressor machine. It made a significant racket, so we closed the doors and sat down to talk about the documentary we saw last week. 

When I handed out worksheets from the Nourish curriculum (an excellent resource!), I could see the lights dim in their eyes.

“Are we going to be tested on this?”

I reassured them that this was just a tool to help them learn, and there would be no test. They visibly relaxed. As middle schoolers, they have been inundated with standardized tests lately, and I felt sorry for them.

Our volunteer “professor” Erik directed a dialogue on how to improve the food system (he recorded a few ideas on the white board, pictured above). Every child was engaged, offering examples of how they personally could take action. They may be too young to vote in elections, or make purchasing decisions, but they are still influential in “voting with their forks.” One of my favorite suggestions was “buy more organic and they’ll make more.”

Soon it was time for ice cream, so papers and pens were whisked away, and as Rob scooped, our Plate lead Darien added a gingersnap to each bowl. Again I was pleased again that everyone waited until all were seated and served–and thanks was given (by Gratitude lead Emma)–before savoring their treat. Great job, kids! Delaying gratification is such an important skill.

The ice cream got a thumbs up, even though it was more soupy (given our rush) than icy. KP lead Eliot, deprived of a job last week, began supervising clean up, but before we could even dry a dish, class was over. (I’m still working on time management. One of these weeks, we’ll get the kitchen clean before the bell rings.) The students left happily, laughter echoing in the hallways.

Not five minutes had elapsed when an unfamiliar student poked her head into the classroom, looking hopeful.

“I heard you guys made ice cream. Got any left?”

Nope, not even a quarter teaspoon. We encouraged her to sign up for the next class, in February.



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Bugs in a Boat


5 stalks celery, washed, trimmed, and cut in 3″ lengths
1 cup peanut or almond butter
1/3 cup each dried cranberries, raisins, and peanuts


Set out the ingredients out in small dishes, and show the kids how to spread butter into the “boat” of celery, then sprinkle with “ants.”


Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

Adapted by Rob Gardiner from “The Ultimate Ice Cream Book” by Bruce Weinstein, this recipe is not only a sure-hit with kids, it’s an opportunity to discuss the science of emulsions, to practice separating and tempering eggs, to use a double boiler and an ice bath, and to judge doneness by look, feel, and thermometer.  Serves 6.
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (fresh ground preferred)
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh ground preferred)
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 15 ounce can unseasoned pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream


  1. Place saucepan with one inch of water over high heat until boiling. Lower heat to medium and keep at a simmer.
  2. Combine milk, sugar, and salt in another saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium heat until steam begins to rise and you see a ring of small bubbles around the edge of the milk.
  3. Prepare an ice bath in a large stainless steel bowl. Fill halfway with ice cubes and cold tap water.
  4. Whisk egg yolks in a medium stainless steel bowl until they are pale yellow. Temper eggs by slowly whisking warm milk mixture into egg yolks. Place bowl over saucepan with simmering water. 
  5. Whisk constantly until mixture reaches 175 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Do not let tip of thermometer touch bottom of bowl. Do not allow mixture to boil.
  6. When mixture reaches 175 degrees, carefully remove bowl from saucepan and place in ice bath. Whisk mixture while keeping bowl partially submerged in ice water until cool.
  7. Add spices, pumpkin, and cream to egg mixture. Stir until combined. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator, preferably several hours or overnight.
  8. Add vanilla extract and stir to combine. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. Eat immediately as soft serve, or spoon into plastic containers, cover with wax paper and lid, and freeze until firm. Enjoy!


Categories: Dessert, Gluten-Free, Kid Favorite, Vegetarian


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