SANFORD – The directions were simple: Lift the lever of the ”batch machine” to let the ice cream flow out, then put it back in its original position to make the ice cream stop.

But I guess the pressure of filling a five-gallon tub with freshly made chocolate ice cream was too much. I froze. I pulled the lever the wrong way, and in seconds ice cream was splashing onto the floor and my shoes.

”Whoa, other way, other way,” yelled Jon Hopkins, 22, the ice cream maker I was shadowing last week at Shain’s of Maine Ice Cream. In a split second, his voice became calm, and comforting. ”Happens to everybody. We’ll clean it up.” It might happen to everybody, but there was something very painful about knowing that I had just wasted a couple of quarts of fresh ice cream. How would I explain it to my two young daughters? Our family does not waste ice cream.

But Hopkins told me that one of the perks of working at Shain’s — family-owned and based in Sanford since 1979 — is that you’re allowed free ice cream at lunch or on break. So in my mind, I tried to rationalize the spilled ice cream as my lunch allotment.

Spilled ice cream, or milk, or water, or maple flavoring, is not uncommon at Shain’s, considering that the company turns out as much as 3,000 quarts of ice cream a day in winter, and maybe 10,000 a day in summer.

When I visited, just three people were turning out the day’s batches, in a small, cold (never above 50 degrees), basement space. Hopkins was manning the two ice cream-making ”batch machines,” while Cindy Szymbor filled and capped quart containers, and production manager Stacie Kezar stuck labels onto the quarts.

When Hopkins began making the chocolate batch, he started by pouring a big bag of powdered chocolate into a sifter. I then donned an apron and rubber gloves to shake and sift the chocolate, trying to be sure to get it as fine as possible, on Hopkins’ instructions.

Then he had me lift a five-gallon bag of milk, with 14 percent butterfat, and pour it into the ice cream-making machine, which is about the size of an industrial washing machine.

He told me to wrap one hand around the milk bag’s spout, then put my other hand under the bag. The bags weigh about 45 pounds, and the caps are known to pop off when the bags are picked up incorrectly.

I struggled a little, but got the bag in and poured all of the milk into the machine without incident. Then Hopkins dumped in the powdered chocolate, and instructed me to put in a couple of ounces of vanilla.

”Vanilla? In chocolate?” I asked.

”It’s for the sweetness,” Hopkins said.

Makes sense, I thought, but it still sounds funny.

Hopkins turned the machine on, and said it would mix for about 10 minutes.

Then I went over to the packaging station, where a previous batch of chocolate was sitting in a giant steel funnel, perched above a piston-driven machine with a spigot at the bottom.

The idea, I was told, was to put an empty quart container under the spigot, then push the trigger, which lets out a ”woosh” sound, since the machine is powered by compressed air. After two pushes of the trigger, the quart was filled.

Then I was told to put a lid on and wipe off any excess ice cream that ran onto the outside of the container. It’s important to put the lid on first, then wipe the outside, or you risk touching the ice cream in the quart with a dirty paper towel. Also, the ”Shain’s” name on the lid has to be facing the front of the quart.

Maybe most importantly, I learned, you need to put another empty container under the spigot as soon as you pull a full quart out. If you don’t, you risk wasting ice cream. And by this point I was sure I didn’t want to waste any more ice cream.

I also tried my hand at sticking adhesive labels on the quarts, which was pretty straightforward, if not a little monotonous.

On the day I went to Shain’s, they were making various flavors, in quarts and tubs, that the company delivers to 300 stores and 100 ice cream stands. They make about 100 flavors, from blueberry cheesecake to red raspberry chip and mocha macadamia.

I was sad to learn that on the day I was there they were not making their classic Sea Dog Biscuit. That’s the chocolate chip cookie and ice cream sandwich that is wildly popular at home games of the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team. It’s also in some local stores.

The workers did explain to me how the Sea Dog Biscuit is made. The ice cream is made in a batch machine, just like the one I used, then a worker grabs a cookie and holds it under a spigot while ice cream oozes out. Then they top it with another cookie and, voila, a biscuit is born.

Back at the two batch machines, Hopkins was dumping some walnuts into one for a batch of maple walnut. Then he rinsed out the other with a hose so he could begin making butter crunch.

He showed me a big box of butterscotch candies, sort of melted together in a plastic bag. He gave me a rubber mallet and told me to ”go crazy” on the candy, smashing it to bits.

The first few whacks, I hit my hand pretty hard on the solid block of candy and actually ripped my rubber glove. After that, I got a little more strategic with my whacks, and was able to smash enough for the batch of butter crunch.

Butter crunch is my favorite flavor, so I got slightly excited and asked Hopkins his favorite. Red raspberry chip, he told me.

Hopkins has been at Shain’s for about a year and a half, and says he is still very enthusiastic about tasting the ice cream whenever he can.

”Yeah, I like making the ice cream and I like eating it,” he said. ”That’s why I have a gym membership.”

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]