Churning of an American Classic: The Scoop on Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

Esther Levy offered a recipe for bay leaf, lemon, almond and orangeflower water ice cream in her 1871 cookbook Jewish Cookery. In 1922, The Settlement Cookbook published recipes for Prune, Pistachio and “Pêches Melba” ice creams. But the undeniable Jewish authorities on ice cream making in the 21st century have got to be Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – founders of Ben & Jerry’s.

The AJH’s cookbook collection contains Ice Cream, a 1988 children’s book by William Jaspersohn. It illustrates the process of making ice cream, from “cow to cone,” with photographs and illustrations. The ice cream it follows through this process happens to be Ben & Jerry’s.

Ben and Jerry met as pre-teens in middle school, and were still close when they felt directionless after college. They decided to open a food business, either ice cream or bagels (but why not bagel ice cream?). They eventually decided on ice cream.

In anticipation of opening their first store in Burlington, Vermont, Jerry tested ice cream recipes in a White Mountain ice cream maker, whose design has not changed since its invention in 1843. They took an ice cream-making correspondence course from Pennsylvania State University; PSU’s Department of Food Science is still internationally known for its ice cream-making courses.

The first Ben & Jerry’s store opened its doors on May 5, 1978. Although some of their ice creams have not withstood the test of time, like Lemon Pepper-Mint Carob Chip, others like Heath Bar Crunch remain a perennial favorite. In Ice Cream, one photograph depicts a worker hurling a boxful of Heath Bars to the factory floor. Smashing these boxes on the ground remains the best way to break up the candy for ice cream.

By far the most delightful aspect of Ice Cream is the charming diagrams of machines used in the ice cream factory, like “butterfat globules” being shot through a homogenizer or “chips and chunks” being dropped into a Fruit Feeder. The depiction of the Spiral Hardener is particularly satisfying, with hundreds of ice cream pints wending their way through a freezer.

In 1988, Ben & Jerry’s factory produced 100,000 pints a day, 3.5 million gallons per year, and was sold in 25 states nationwide. Today, they have three factories that produce 400 pints per minute and around 72 million gallons annually. Their ice cream is available in all 50 states and 38 countries. (source).

Are you thinking about eating ice cream now? Me, too. So I got my hands on a copy of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book, first published in 1987. I was intrigued by some of the book’s odder recipes – like kiwi and cantaloupe ice creams, where the fruits are pureed and blended with a sweet cream ice cream. And I was tempted by some of the Ben & Jerry’s classics, like Heath Bar Crunch and Dastardly Mash, a mix of almonds, pecans, and chocolate chips in chocolate ice cream. But I decided to attempt the Honey Apple Raisin Walnut ice cream, because it reminded me of the best part of the Passover Seder: haroset.

I was a bit baffled by the inclusion of raw eggs in the recipe. It seemed odd from a food safety standpoint, but also because I knew cooking the eggs into a custard would make a creamier ice cream. Although I felt like I shouldn’t mess with the best, I’ve adapted this recipe to use a cooked custard base—and it turned out super creamy. Alternately, you could use their Sweet Cream base, which is simpler because it requires no cooking. Just whisk together 2 cups heavy cream, ⅓ cup half-and-half, ½ cup honey and ¼ cup cider jelly, apple jelly, or apple butter. Then it’s ready for your ice cream maker!

I’ve also adjusted this recipe to push the haroset connection. After making the original recipe, I just felt it needed a little spice and a bit more texture – so I’d recommend adding 1 medium apple, cut into cubes and simmered until tender with ¼ cup sugar and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon; and 2 whole matzo, crumbled, then frozen. Freezing the matzo before it's mixed in the ice cream will help preserve its crisp texture.

Haroset Ice Cream
Adapted from Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book Honey Apple Raisin Walnut Ice Cream

⅓ cup raisins

1 cup water (or red wine, if you’re feeling fun)

2 large eggs

¼ cup apple cider jelly, apple jelly, or apple butter

½ cup honey

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

⅓ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Optional: ⅓ cup cooked apple chunks and 2 matzos, broken into pieces and frozen

Yield: a generous quart

  • Soak the raisins in 1 cup water or wine overnight in the refrigerator.
  • The next day, whisk eggs in a mixing bowl. In a medium saucepan, combine cider jelly, honey, heavy cream, and whole milk. Bring to a boil then turn off heat. Stir to make sure jelly and honey are dissolved.
  • Pour hot dairy mixture slowly on to the eggs, whisking constantly.
  • Return to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard thickens slightly, about 15 minutes.
  • Pour custard into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pushing it down so it touches the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until chilled – overnight is preferable. 
  • Drain raisins and mix with walnuts.
  • Churn chilled custard in an ice-cream maker until it has “soft serve” consistency, about 10-20 minutes, adding raisins, walnuts, apples and matzo in the last 30 seconds of churning.


  • Transfer to a resealable plastic container and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours

  • Enjoy!


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