By MARGIE WUEBKER
The colorful sign says it all — “Old Fashioned Homemade
Ice Cream The Way Grandma Made.”
residents Luke and Dorothy Lugibihl spent the weekend at the
Mercer County Fairgrounds making and serving the cold confection
to Fall Harvest Festival visitors.
They work as a team. She prepares the recipe in a makeshift
kitchen set up in the back of a refitted delivery truck and
serves up the finished product to appreciative customers. He
takes charge of the 1928 John Deere hit and miss engine that
powers the big White Mountain ice cream freezer.
“I can kick out a batch in 15 minutes or so,” he
says looping his thumbs around bright green John Deere suspenders.
“This setup is a lot quicker than the old hand-crank method.”
A belt from the noisy engine turns the 5-gallon canister encased
in a wooden bucket filled with 20-plus pounds of ice cubes and
several cups of table salt. He explains the latter agent speeds
the freezing process.
The engine’s distinctive sound gradually changes to a
“bogged down” hum just before the belt slips from
the flywheel. The action signals the completion of another batch
better than any fancy timer.
The Lugibihls have been making and serving homemade ice cream
for 18 years. They never planned to acquire the tasty sideline,
but a visit to the Mennonite Relief Quilt Sale in Northeastern
Ohio opened the door of opportunity.
They watched with interest as people formed a line waiting for
an Amish gentleman to finish his next batch of ice cream. He
pulled out the center beater and scooped the sweet contents
right from the canister. The ice cream ran out long before the
scores of eager customers.
“We killed a lot of time that weekend helping him,”
Luke Lugibihl says with a smile. “He was an interesting
gentleman in his late 70s.”
They returned to the quilt show in Kidron the next three years
for the express purpose of helping the Amish farmer. When they
told him of their desire to do something similar on the other
side of the state, he quickly shared the tried-and-true recipe.
The recipe, which is still made from scratch, has changed a
bit over the years in accordance with health department regulations
regarding the use of raw eggs and unpasteurized milk. The change
to processed milk and dried egg powder has little effect on
the flavor, they say. The Lugabihls quickly point out their
ice cream contains no additives with multi-syllable names.
“People followed that Amish fellow wherever he went because
of the delicious ice cream,” Lugibihl says. “Now
folks in these parts follow me from one festival to another.
“Nothing can compare to the homemade kind. Let store-bought
ice cream melt and you wind up with foam. Ours goes right back
to the mix from which it started — that is if you can
allow something so good to stand around.”
From May through the third weekend of October, the couple take
their show on the road. The schedule allows for planting and
harvesting of crops back home on the farm. This marks their
second visit to Mercer County. They were here earlier in the
summer for a firemen’s convention.
“I remember our first years,” Luke Lugibihl says
with a chuckle. “Kids weren’t too sure about trying
a dip. They thought of ice cream as something mom brought home
from the store in a colorful carton.”
The couple offer no fancy cartons. Once their ice cream is finished,
they pack it into tall plastic containers with tight-fitting
lids bound for a well-used chest freezer. Dorothy Lugibihl scoops
out generous portions for customers who range in age from toddlers
to grandmas and grandpas.
“Vanilla is the most popular flavor,” she says.
“We sell about twice as much vanilla as we do chocolate.
A lot of folks buy two dips — one vanilla and the other
chocolate so they can try both. It’s not unusual to see
the same faces twice in the course of an afternoon or evening.”
The Lugabihls also make other varieties like strawberry and
peppermint. He laughs, pointing out they have made all kinds
at one time or another.
They recently completed a weeklong stint at the Van Wert County
Fair and filled a large order for an ice cream social in Holgate
before heading to Celina on Friday. They also have an upcoming
engagement in New Knoxville, preparing ice cream for an appreciation
party hosted by a grain elevator.
“I’ve got this 5-gallon unit and a double unit that
turns out 10 gallons at a time,” he says. “Both
are in operation this weekend as my son is working a fly-in
over yonder in Van Wert County.”
Luke Lugibihl claims he was raised on homemade ice cream. His
grandmother made the mix using eggs fresh from the hen house
and rich cream skimmed from milk cans in the milking parlor.
The women never waited for special occasions to prepare the
treat, but family members were expected to turn the crank.
“Folks nowadays claim they are too busy for such things
even with new-fangled electric freezers,” he says beginning
another batch. “Dorothy and I give them the opportunity
to enjoy ice cream the way grandma used to make.”