The other day, while ambling through my favorite kitchen store, I came across assorted pop molds of different designs, but the one that pulled me in had kitschy tiki torch-faces paired with plastic sticks. As an added boon, they were BPA-free, so I could guiltlessly concoct a variety of fun and thirst-quenching pops without the plastic toxins leaching into the icy lollies, and also sub the cloying sugar, fake food coloring, dairy and other allergens with natural food pigments, healthier sweeteners and non-dairy choices.
More than a century old, the iconic Popsicle — a brand name commonly used when referring to ice pops — has come a long way from its Northern Cal roots when a puckish young Frank Epperson tinkered with some soda powder that he mixed in a glass of water with a wooden stirring stick. The kid accidentally left the glass outside on a chilly Frisco night, and in the morning discovered that his fruity mixture had frozen. He dislodged the icy novelty by running the glass under hot water, and gripping the stick he started licking away. By serendipity, he created the precursor to the Popsicle, which he aptly named the “Epsicle.”
Today, more than 2 billion icy delights on a stick are sold yearly in this country — cherry hands down the runaway fave.
But the artisan pops spreading throughout the land are quickly freezing-out the pedestrian boxed grocery brands. These handcrafted beauts come in Paleo, dairy- and gluten-free, low cal, and low sugar showcasing tantalizing fruits, vegetables, spices, mix-ins, and bases with creamy, icy, spicy, salty, chunky, nutty, seedy, savory, whimsical and sophisticated interpretations. Ah yes, please do try these at home:
• Go ape by freezing whole or cut fruits impaled on a stick like a bananas foster drizzled in bittersweet chocolate and rolled in toasted hazelnuts, or oversized Cotton Candy grapes. Or freeze pureed seasonal fruits, including the super food berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries), divine stone fruits (cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums), tropical delights (mango, guava, passion fruit, pineapple, kiwi), or decadent exotics (dragon fruit also called pitaya, jackfruit, cherimoya, loquat). For vibrant color and an antioxidant oomph, add a splash of ruby pomegranate juice or dollop of deep purple acai pulp.
• How sweet it is with a drizzle of immune-boosting honey in the mix whether orange blossom, buckwheat, manuka, or golden acacia. Smoky maple syrup, delicate agave, date or coconut sugar will also add another layer of flavor while amping up the sweetness.
• Pucker up with a squirt of Meyer lemon, key lime, pink grapefruit, or tangerine juice to balance the sweetness of the fruit, and complement dairy and non-dairy milk or cream bases. For a richer, more indulgent texture blend coconut cream, Greek yoghurt, goat kefir, almond, cashew or oat milk into the fruit mixture, or alternate layers (recipe below).
• Use your bean by blending strong coffee with cream of choice for a frozen jo’ on a stick.
• Do a mixed-medium art project by incorporating chia, flax or pomegranate seeds, toasted coconut shreds, chopped pecans, macadamias or pistachios, carob or chocolate chips, or rice crisps for an interesting texture.
• Go green with some chopped mint leaves, basil, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, or baby spinach to add a bright zing of flavor and phytonutrients, while edible flowers like peppery calendula blossoms, golden fennel flowers with notes of licorice, purple pansies, and vibrant violets make a striking presentation.
• For savory palates, construct frozen beet borscht or gazpacho pops with crushed yellow and striped heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, scallions and red peppers impaled with edible sticks of purple carrots, parsnips or celery.
• Spice it up with any combination of pink Himalayan sea salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and pink peppercorns.
• Whip up a batch of “Tipsicles” with a splash of your favorite liqueur into the fruit or veggie puree from Limoncello and Grand Marnier to Frangelico and Kahlua for an icy adult treat. Note that booze with high alcohol to water ratios (high-proofs) have lower freezing points than diluted ones. Vodka, for example, with a souped-up alcohol level would probably stay in liquid form even on Jupiter.
Recipe: Creamy Dreamy Vegan Stone Fruit Pops
• Ingredients: 2 ripe peaches, peeled, sliced; 2 ripe nectarines, skin intact, sliced; 2 purple plums, skin intact, sliced; 1/2-inch fresh ginger, grated; 1 1/2 cups almond or other non-dairy yoghurt; 3/4 cup coconut cream; 3 tablespoons orange blossom honey.
• Method: In a large mixing bowl, blend yogurt, cream and honey. In a food processor or blender, puree stone fruits with ginger. Alternate layers of fruit and cream in popsicle molds and insert sticks. Freeze for about 6 hours or until solid.