Nothing captures the true essence of summer better than sitting on the front porch with a homemade, nutrient-packed popsicle in hand. It is best experienced while leisurely soaking in the warm rays of the sun with toes wiggling in the grass, messy faces, and not a care in the world. After a morning of hard play in the sandbox or a treasure hunt for rocks and sticks, my preschooler adores sitting down for a soothing, cooling popsicle as a snack or after-lunch treat. Even on some of those more care-free days, I serve a few of the below recipes as a full meal, they are so nourishing!
First Things First: The Mold
For years I settled for plastic popsicle molds (which are readily available on the internet and local cookware establishments). I’d rather avoid plastic, but I didn’t want to go without these delightful summer treats. There is the paper cup option, but I was worried about spillage in my already over-full freezer. So one day a friend asked for help finding an alternative popsicle mold, since she shares my aversion to plastic. (See Why Pass on Plastic side bar on page 80.) After some searching and pondering, the answer finally came: glass jelly jars – 4-ounce or 8- ounce sizes work beautifully!
For simplicity’s sake, you could just use the glass portion for the popsicle, slip in a stick and cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil. (Note: it is helpful to first let the mixture freeze a little before adding the stick so it stays upright.) However, I took the idea a step further. My husband is handy with tools, so I asked him to cut a slit slightly thicker than a popsicle stick in the jelly jar lids. Then I filed down the rough edges with sand paper until smooth. The screw top portion of the lid is still able to twist shut, minimizing the popsicle’s exposure to air. While glass is certainly the best option for reducing your exposure to possible contaminants, it is, of course, breakable. So be sure to gradually cool the glass with warm water to loosen the pop inside since using hot water might cause the glass to crack. See a picture of our creation below. If you are not handy in the workshop, enlist some friends. Try trading their handiwork for a yummy batch of any of these delicious creations and they will be more than compensated!
Don’t want to use glass? For some families, glass is not the best choice for one reason or another. There are a few molds on the market made of silicon, which is a safer material than plastic. Krystina Castella, in her inspiring book titled POPS!, uses all kinds of unique molds and even gives directions on how to make your own silicon versions.1
Regardless of the mold, ingredients will expand while freezing (especially ingredients with more air content, such as a smoothie or a carbonated beverage), so leave at least 1/4 inch at the top. It is best to leave your pops frozen in their molds to prevent freezer burn, which will also keep them fresh for up to two weeks. Popsicles have unlimited ingredient possibilities— put on your kitchen-cap and get inspired!
Diets based on traditional food practices are teeming with natural fats; thus, our pops should follow suit. Below is a selection of fats for popsicle-making. Try to include one or more of these in every pop.
- Any full fat dairy product (cow or goat), especially fermented varieties for their probiotic benefits: kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, or cream fraîche
- Kefir or yogurt cheese (leftover from making whey; see my Spring, 2009 article titled “Enjoying Little Miss Muffet’s Curds and Whey” for more on this subject)
- Ice cream (made from dairy or coconut milk)
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk or coconut cream
- Almond milk or other nut milks
- Avocados (a surprising ingredient for added creaminess)
- Nut butters
- Raw egg yolks
Fresh fruit is one of the best ways to celebrate summer. Berries pack an especially powerful nutritional punch compared to other fruits with their lower sugar content and higher skin-to-pulp ratio. Most of the health-promoting pigments reside in the skin, which is obvious from their brilliant colors—the pinkish-red of a raspberry, the deep violet of a blueberry and the fiery glow of a cherry. Fruit can be blended into a mixture or cut into small pieces and tossed into the bottom of the mold, which gives an alluring look to your end product.
While fresh whole fruit has a gigantic nutritional leg up on juice, I believe summer pops to be an acceptable place to “let loose” if you will. Still, stick with the more concentrated, nutrient-dense extracts, such as goji, dark cherry, black currant, elderberry, blueberry or pomegranate. Homemade lemonade or limeade also makes a tasty pop.
Herbal Infusions, Teas and Juices
A strongly brewed herb or tea can make a flavorful and colorful base for a popsicle (see the recipe Gelasicles, page 81), many even offer therapeutic properties. (See side bar Sicles for the Sickie, page 81.) For instance, try rooibos (aka Red Bush tea) for its high antioxidant content, or the India-originating herb holy basil (Tulsi tea) for its adaptogenic properties. Both of these make excellent bases for popsicles. You could even make carrot juice pops; maybe add some other fruity flavors for variation.
For the more mature palates in the family, try freezing a favorite herbal coffee-alternative concoction or chai you make up during the winter with almond milk or cream (freezing tends to dull the taste, so be sure to brew your concoctions extra strong). For these more liquid-based pops, gelatin provides a bit of body. The protein matrix of the gelatin traps water and gels when cooled, ultimately making a softer popsicle that melts more slowly. Added sugar helps prevent the pop from freezing into a solid block of ice by lowering the freezing point. Dissolving the sugar into the base ingredient makes for an even better distribution of flavors throughout and a smoother texture.2
Add some pep to your popsicles with one or more of these decadent additions, mix-ins or toppings:
- Crispy nuts: almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.
- Seeds: chia, poppy, sesame, etc.
- Coconut: flaked or shredded
- Dehydrated beet powder for a fantastic red color
- Chopped dried fruit
- Homemade cookie crumbles
- Jams or fruit spreads, homemade, preferably
- Spirulina (makes a fun green color or can be hidden behind the blue of blueberries or brown of carob)
- Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, pumpkin pie mix, ginger or even chili for those who want a little extra bite to their pop)
- Zests: lemon, orange, or lime
- Edible flowers or herb leaves: add one or two vibrant orange or yellow nasturtiums in a base of a fruity herbal tea sweetened with honey or a few lavender blossoms in a lemonade pop. Try all types of edible flowers, such as lemon verbena, lemon balm, mint or lilacs.
- Carob chips: see the homemade recipe in Nourishing Traditions
- Powdered or liquid superfoods: bee pollen, colostrum or high-vitamin C berry powders (e.g. acerola or camu camu)
With fruit=filled pops, additional sweetness is often unnecessary, unlike cream-based varieties, which often need a little boost. The more obvious choices are raw honey (local if possible), maple syrup and brown rice syrup. Another fun option is dates (usually soaked for up to a few hours to rehydrate, to help them smooth out a bit), which also help add a creamy texture. Stevia whole leaf powder works well in these types of recipes (note: it will leave a green color).
Icy, Creamy, Dreamy Recipes
Use these recipes to jump-start your own creations. Keep experimenting, and remember, make notes as you go along. There is nothing worse than stumbling onto something your family is crazy about, only to find that you can’t remember the exact proportions—believe me, I speak from experience!
Razzle Raspberry Creamsicle
1 cup frozen or fresh raspberries
1 cup yogurt, kefir, kefir cheese or raw cream
1 tablespoon (or to taste) raw honey
1 teaspoon vitamin C-rich berry powder of choice, optional
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract, optional
Blend, or just stir if you like your pops with a bit more bulk, pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Variations: substitute blackberries, ripe bananas or peaches (peaches go well with almond extract). Also try substituting the fruit with diluted fruit juice concentrate, like goji, dark cherry, black currant, elderberry, blueberry or pomegranate.
Tropical Coconut Pop
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (or coconut cream equivalent)
1-2 bananas, depending on size
32 ounces frozen mango or pineapple, or a blend
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
1-2 raw egg yolks
dash of vanilla
1 tablespoon maple syrup, or to taste flaked coconut (optional)
Blend, pour into popsicle molds and freeze.
Just about any mix of fruit will turn out tasty with this recipe!
2 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup strong brewed tea (try strawberry leaves, peppermint, hibiscus or another fruity flavor) or a fruit juice extract (blueberry, dark cherry, pomegranate)
1 cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons Rapadura (or other whole food sweetener)
3 cups of fruit (berries, bananas, apricots, plums, etc.)
Heat tea, gelatin and sugar in a saucepan over low heat until the gelatin dissolves (approximately 5 minutes). Puree the fruit with the gelatin mixture. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.
6 ounces coconut cream or kefir cheese
1 cup coconut milk or raw cream
2 or more tablespoons almond butter
6 large dates, pitted and soaked
2 tablespoons cocoa or carob powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch sea salt
Blend, pour into molds and freeze.
The “Accidental” Pop
Have you ever attempted to make a pudding, mousse, smoothie or custard that just didn’t make it? Don’t toss it out—freeze it; there is a good chance it might do well as a popsicle!
And speaking of accidents, if you are using popsicle molds without the drip tray, try the coffee filter trick. To help keep fingers clean, slip a coffee filter over the stick of the popsicle. The filter can double as a face wipe.
The Queen of Pops
Did you know pop making is an art form? It is if you have the imagination and pop-passion of Krystina Castella, author of Pops! Icy Treats for Everyone. She takes pop-making to a whole new level. Not only is POPS! a feast for the eyes in and of itself, the recipes in her book will get your creative pop-wheels turning. She features the most basic, easy-to-make recipes, all the way to gourmet dinner party delights. If you get the chance, at least check this one out from the library for inspiration.
History of the Epsicle…I mean, Popsicle
Although food historians suspect that the Italians came up with the concept of a frozen fruit treat somewhere during the late 19th century, the story of American Frank Epperson is much more interesting, if not more documented. In 1905, eleven-year-old Frank accidentally left a stirring stick in a glass of lemonade on the back porch on an unusally frigid night in San Francisco. After realizing his genius discovery, Epperson appropriately named it “Ep-sicle,” but years later changed the name to popsicle after hearing his children scream for “Pop’s sicles.” He applied for a patent, but it wasn’t granted until 1924. He ended up selling his invention, and today the rights to his patent are owned by Good Humor.
Why Pass on Plastics?
Plastics have a shady history. Plastics were once hailed as a miracle material, but the contaminants they contain are now recognized as carcinogens. Don’t get me wrong, medicine and other fields of study have benefited from plastic, but the health of humans, animals (especially aquatic) and the planet are suffering the consequences. Luckily, we have a large margin of control over just how much our own family comes in contact with plastic, which is more prevalent than one might think. Water bottles, baby bottles, toddler sippies and food storage containers may be obvious, but a less known fact is that plastic also lines most aluminum cans (some more health-minded companies are using other materials) and is found in dentistry composites and sealants. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical in plastic, has even been found in infant formula! While BPA has received some negative press lately, it isn’t the only offending chemical in plastic. Phthalates and flame retardants (PBDEs) also deserve attention for their disastrous effects on humans and laboratory animals. Newer research confirms many of the old findings on these chemicals—endocrine disruption (in adults and babies), thyroid disruption, and increase risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver enzyme abnormalities.3 And recently, the Yale School of Medicine found that BPA “causes the loss of connections of brain cells,” which increases the risk for memory problems and even depression.4
The bottom line is, when at all possible, avoid using plastics, especially where foods or beverages are concerned and even more so when there is heat (such as in a hot car or microwave) applied or the plastic has been reused. Opt for glass at home for beverages and waxed paper or canvas tie-string bags for sandwiches and foods. Away from home, I prefer stainless steel containers to plastic, bear in mind there are some concerns as to the safety of stainless steel due to the possibility of toxic levels of nickel leaching into the liquid, particularly when in contact with fermented or other acidic foods and beverages (see Wise Traditions, “Cookware Dilemma” Fall 2008 p.11). If you choose to use stainless steel, stick with the least reactive fluids, such as non-fluoridated or chlorinated water or milk. If you choose to use plastic, try to find BPA-free and/or phthalates-free plastic, such as baby bottles or toddler sippy cups and water bottles. Lastly, choose the “safer” plastics that use polyethylene (#1, #2, #4 and #5).
Sicles for the Sickie
Sweet, desserty popsicles are the norm; however popsicles made from medicinal herbs offer up a unique means of hydrating an unwilling sickie while cooling throat and mouth discomfort. Good herbs to try include cleavers, elder flowers, spearmint, licorice, lemon balm, wintergreen and ginger.5 And don’t forget to add raw honey when there is a cough involved; it has been proven to be an excellent remedy.6 Herbal tinctures with a glycerine base may also be a useful addition. Check out this throat soother tea below. These herbal pops may be best made in smaller quantities, such as an ice cube tray, to avoid waste.
Throat Soother Popsicle
5 inches fresh ginger, roughly chopped zest of one lemon 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (or 4 teaspoons dried peppermint) 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons raw honey (preferably local), to taste
Combine ginger, zest, mint and 6 cups water in a saucepan and bring to a boil (covered). Reduce to a simmer (uncovered) until the mixture has reduced to 5 cups (approximately 30 minutes). Strain and return liquid to the saucepan. Add the lemon juice and honey to taste. Pour into molds and freeze.
- Castella, Krystina. POPS! Icy Treats for Everyone. Quirk Books, Philadephia. 2008. p. 123
- Ibid, p. 10
- Lang, Iain, PhD. Association of Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration With Medical Disorders and Laboratory Abnormalities in Adults. JAMA. 2008;300(11):1303-1310. Published online September 16, 2008 (doi:10.1001/ jama.300.11.1303).
- Csaba Leranth. Bisphenol A prevents the synaptogenic response to estradiol in hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of ovariectomized nonhuman primates. PNAS published September 3, 2008. DOI:10.1073/pnas.0806139105
- Bove, Mary. N.D. An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants. Keats Publishing. 2001. p. 98.
- Ian M. Paul, MD, MSc. Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2007;161(12):1140-1146
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2009.