By day, Tracy King is an event photographer. By night, she transforms into something else entirely. "I am a closet baker," she says. A clandestine foodie.
She is also the owner, manager and jack-of-all-trades, along with her husband Chris and children, Parker and Sara, of Cumberstone Ice Pops.
The family sells more than 250 pops each week from their small freezer, which runs on three marine batteries, weighs more than 100 pounds when loaded with ice pops, thankfully rolls, and which they haul to the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market at Westfield Annapolis Mall on Sundays and to the Riva Road market on Tuesdays.
Ice pops aren't exactly ground-breaking. There is an almost universal association between hot summer days and ice-cold, refreshingly sweet frozen treats.
Modern pops are far removed from the saccharine, artificially flavored, plasticky ice pops of our youth. Leaving aside commercial "all-natural" versions, pops are now made with hyper-fresh, local ingredients in small batches by inspired perfectionists like Tracy, who care deeply about where their food comes from and how it will arrive to the consumer.
Ice pops have been on the rise since the mid 2000's, when paletas were re-discovered in Latin America. The concept of frozen-fruit street treats was brought to where they arrived to conveniently find a culinary culture keen on organic and local produce, innovative flavors and artisan production.
The trend began (as so many good things do) on the West Coast, spreading from L.A. to foodie towns like Honolulu and Portland, eventually making its way east to Miami and New York. These hot spots host a plethora of ice-pop companies who sell their wares from food trucks, corner stands, street fairs and farmers markets. Cumberstone Pops are the late but welcome (and only) ice pop company in Anne Arundel County.
Blackberry Yogurt Honey, Peach & Jalapeno, Raspberry Basil, Tarta de Lima, Pear Ginger Cream, Pineapple Salted Caramel, Café Cubano, Mexican Chocolate...
Tracy's pops are made with local ingredients she harvests from her neighbor's farm and from her own backyard near Harwood. They are chemical, preservative, gluten and dairy free.
When she needs sugar, she uses organic evaporated cane juice, agave or honey. You won't find artificial sweeteners and certainly not high-fructose corn syrup in her products. Instead, you will find handcrafted infusions, purees and emulsions that are made from scratch each week in small batches of 10 or so. The pops actually taste like real fruit, real ingredients.
Tracy was not an expert ice pop maker. In fact, she randomly saw ice pops on Instagram and thought it would be fun to put her closet confectionary skills to work.
She wanted to create fresh, clean and healthy treat, something that would appeal to both children and adults. Most importantly, she sought a way to connect with the farming community in south county, bringing their produce to market in an entirely new way.
Getting her business running hasn't been as easy as you might think. Tracy creates her own recipes. She's thrown out hundreds of "test pops" in her search for fun flavor combinations that are as delicious as they are unexpected.
Beyond that challenge, she had to figure out how to source, procure and store any fresh fruit she didn't grow herself. Once the pops are made, she has to freeze them at just the right temperature. That temperature has to be maintained during transport and sale in order to avoid freezer burn, which will rob the pops of flavor and doesn't look pretty. She has to manage production costs for maximum profit and minimum waste.
Her efforts have paid off.
"These are the best. The most incredibly delicious best," gushed a customer at the Westfield market last Sunday.
A steady stream of customers stops by Tracy's freezer-on-wheels. Children intently read the flavors sign in hopes of a cool treat. Market mavens seek a dessert made with local products. Others want to chit chat about garden pests and summer harvests. All leave with smile and a promise to "be back next week." After a week of hard work, only three pops remain.
Tiffany Dawn Soto
A less-informed sweet tooth may think ice pops are a nostalgic dessert best meant for undiscerning children. That would be a mistake.
Tiffany Dawn Soto has a super palate. This means she is among the less than 25 percent of all people who have the unusual ability to taste subtleties of flavor the rest of us average eaters can't detect.
She is also a Master Sommelier with a specialty in sake. She is quite famous in the regional world of wine and spirits, having been hand-picked by celebrity Chef Michael Mina to manage the Four Seasons beverage operations.
A massive job, she oversees all beer, wine and spirits sold in the upscale hotel, which includes two restaurants, a catering division, a posh spa and a lovely bar adjacent to a boat-shaped infinity pool that is a peaceful oasis overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
When you imagine her super palate or imagine all those wine and spirit facts that must take up massive amounts of space in her brain; when you hear Tiffany's confident, clipped accent (she does after all reveal the secrets of her super palate each time she voices a professional opinion), you subconsciously think of someone with stature and girth.
In fact, Tiffany is petite with long red hair and fine features. She has a 12-year-old daughter and 7-month-old baby girl. She shows me pictures of them on her iPhone. That super palate and incredible knowledge are overshadowed by the fact that she is gracious and welcoming, someone I can instantly relate to. And she makes awesome PopTails.
I met her to talk about these confections -- cocktails melded with ice cream, frozen on a stick. I'm game for most foods on a stick, especially when they are laced with liquor, and Tiffany's concoctions are so interesting: Raspberry Beaujolais Cheesecake, Classic Mojito, Baltimore Orange Crush Dreamsicle with Citron Citrange and orange vodka, Pineapple MaiTai, Strawberry Basil Sangria...I'll take one of each, thank you!
Tiffany came up with the idea for PopTails by the Pool when she heard about a Four Seasons corporate sales initiative aptly termed "Create to Inspire." Her daughter, who loves to cook (they often turn to the Ben & Jerry's Cookbook for inspiration) noticed wine sorbet at the grocery. One taste was all she needed.
"Why not pair my two favorite things? she says. "Ice cream and liquor is the perfect match. With very little time but an abundance of aptitude, she instantly got to work developing recipes for her latest menu offering.
Getting the pops just right wasn't easy. Essentially, the wine or spirit chemically bonds with the dessert base during production. The base freezes around the liquor as the mixture turns solid. Even a 1/4 cup too little or too much wine will prevent the base from freezing. Conventional wisdom aside, too much liquor can overwhelm the flavor of the pop.
"A PopTail shouldn't be too alcoholic" Tiffany advises. "The spirits should compliment and balance the flavors of the base."
Tiffany's ultimate job is to help folks have a good time. PopTails do just that. With the Labor Day holiday weekend coming up, you may want to offer your weekend guests a frozen cocktail or two. Tiffany has already done all the work with this recipe using fresh raspberries and Beaujolais wine.
If you are coming up with your own concoction, remember that a PopTail doesn't have to be complicated. Tiffany recommends an easy Bellini made by simply adding prosecco or champagne to muddled fruit and fruit juice. You can include muddled herbs for interest.
Another version is just as easy: softly melt your favorite flavor of ice cream, add your preferred spirits (I'm thinking a dash of exotic spices and a splash of premier tequila or rum sounds awesome with some kind of chocolate... maybe some caramel too), pour into the molds and re-freeze.
Most mixed cocktails taste great virgin, too. The same principal applies to PopTails. Simply combine simple syrup with fresh fruit or other ingredients, add muddled herb-y or spicy flavors... pour, mold and freeze.
For a great virgin recipe from Cumberstone Pops and for more ice pop recipes, visit http://www.foragingforflavor.com. Answer our question of the week on Foraging tor Flavor's Facebook page for a chance to win a $10 gift card to Cumberstone Pops, which buys you four of their awesome flavors.
To remove the popsicles from the molds, dip the mold in lukewarm water. The popsicle will slightly melt and pull out of the mold. Re-freeze for a bit to harden. Popsicle molds are available in just about every kitchen store these days. You can even find tiny molds that make a perfect party sized PopTail.
Raspberry Beaujolais Cheesecake PopTail
By Tiffany Dawn Soto, Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
2 cups raspberries
8 ounces simple syrup (1:1 sugar dissolved in water)
6 ounces Beaujolais wine
1/3 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 tablepsoons sugar.
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
In a blender combine the first three ingredients, puree, and set aside.
In a mixer combine sugar and heavy cream and beat until lightly fluffy.
Hand-whip cream cheese, fold into the heavy cream mixture. Beat for 30 seconds more.
Add in half of the graham crackers and stir to combine.
Place the cream mixture into a piping bag or Ziploc bag and cut off one corner.
Layer raspberry mixture and cream mixture in pop mold until filled a 1/4 inch from the top.
Add a layer of graham cracker crumbs to the top like a pie crust and cover with cover of mold.
Insert sticks and freeze for at least 12 hours.
Dip mold into warm water for 5 seconds to loosen.
Carefully remove, and enjoy immediately!