Alberta “Ms. Wink” Mabry has her recipe ready for an upcoming food competition, none of which requires baking for four hours in a 375-degree oven.
For the past four years she has competed in Ashantilly Center’s Churn-Off on the first Sunday in September. She has won the people’s choice award each year and one year also won the judged contest.
“If you get the people’s choice, you must be doing something right,’’ she figures.
She and hand-churned ice cream have a history. She may have had her first before World War II.
She was born March 1, 1933, in The Ridge and lived there with her family.
“Nothing but woods,’’ she said of The Ridge in her early years. “There were just a few families.”
But in the summer time there was one tasty constant.
“Every Sunday on every porch you’d find families with a bucket making ice cream,’’ she said.
They’d sit out there with a straight chair taking turns turning the crank. It was easy at first, but then it got more difficult as the flavored milk hardened into ice cream.
There were no electric churns in those days, and besides, many homes didn’t have electricity. And you couldn’t go down to the convenience store for a bag of ice because convenience was a rare commodity in anything. Like others, her family had an ice box that kept food chilled with a big block of ice.
“Bob Carter delivered the ice in his wheelbarrow with a towel around his neck and in his boots,’’ she said.
The big blocks of ice came from the ice house overlooking the Darien River.
“We’d cover it with a croker sack and put it in that ice box,’’ she said.
Every house also had an ice pick and they’d chip off some pieces, put it in the ice cream bucket, add rock salt and start cranking to freeze the concoction turning in a metal canister inside the icy, salty slush.
The flavors varied. There was vanilla made with extract and chocolate from syrup, but some families made fruit flavors with Kool-Aid which was first marketed in powder form in 1927.
“Whatever was at hand,’’ she said.
Sometimes she would go to Sapelo where she had an aunt.
“We’d go make our ice cream and sell it at Allen Green’s store, that and roasted peanuts,’’ she said.
Now 86, it’s not as if Mabry has been churning ice cream nonstop in The Ridge for the past seven decades.
She left McIntosh County right out of high school and moved to New York where she lived in the Bronx and worked in Manhattan. She retired from the pathology department of the Harlem Hospital, a health care facility affiliated with Columbia University.
Then 31 years ago, she came home to Darien.
Back home, the Churn-Off caught her attention and she decided to give it a try.
“The first year, I made peach because we’re all Georgia peaches,’’ she said. “They loved it.”
She served it on a waffle. “Um, um good,’’ she said. “A good taste of nostalgia.”
She believes she made strawberry one year and tried rum raisin albeit with a twist.
“Instead of soaking the raisins in rum, I soaked them in moonshine,’’ she said. “That really spiked it up.”
Last year’s flavor was Mango Royale, she said.
Asked why she has been so successful, Mabry said, “I don’t give away my secrets. It’s a family thing.”
She still does things the old-fashion way.
Her churn is a hand-cranked White Mountain model that she unabashedly calls top of the line. She also puts up her banner, “Ms. Wink’s old-fashioned homemade ice cream,” and has an apron with an ice cream cone on the pocket that matches the banner.
Ms. Wink has been her nickname longer than she’s been eating ice cream, the diminutive Mabry said.
“My grandmother named me Wink. I was so small and tiny she said I wasn’t any bigger than a wink,’’ she said.
Ashantilly Center director Harriet Langford said there are usually more than a dozen competitors and an array of flavors, some unusual. Ms. Wink said she plans to enter a citrus flavor this year.
“We started with a small crowd with a few flavors as a community outreach event,’’ and it’s grown from there, Langford said.
It’s an inexpensive event that the whole family can enjoy, she said.
There are prizes for the individual, business and organization and people’s choice winners, which Langford said, Mabry wins a lot.
The event will run from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday. The first two tastes are $5, and an additional three tastes are also $5.
Free water, lemonade and popcorn are available and visitors are welcome to go inside and see Thomas Spalding’s historic Ashantilly House, where author Buddy Sullivan will be relating the home’s history.