Chill out: Homemade ice pops take the edge off Asheville’s summer heat

HOPPING GOOD: The Hop created this tangerine-lavender-honey Hopsicle from Urban Orchard's Tangerine Turnpike cider for a Brewing for Greenways event. The honey was a Highlands wildflower variety sourced from Asheville Bee Charmer.
HOPPING GOOD: The Hop created this tangerine-lavender-honey Hopsicle from Urban Orchard's Tangerine Turnpike cider for a Brewing for Greenways event. The honey was a Highlands wildflower variety sourced from Asheville Bee Charmer. Photo by Pat Barcas Photos, courtesy of Urban Orchard

If you’re the type who likes a fanciful rooftop cocktail, craft beer or dreamy ice cream, here are some cool summer treats you can try at home. These ice pop inspirations from local mix masters are guaranteed to heat up your imagination even as they’re cooling down the rest of you.

The secret’s in the syrup

Greg and Ashley Garrison own The Hop, which boasts three local outlets. But while ice cream is a year-round event for them, says Greg, they like to reserve the Hopsicles — their take on ice pops — for special occasions. During the summer, they host regular tasting nights at The Hop Ice Creamery on Haywood Road, creating inventive ice-cream flights and icy treats. The next such event is slated for Friday, July 7. They also do Hopsicle bars for weddings and birthday parties. They’ve cooked up such unusual flavor combinations as lime-avocado, lychee-coconut cream, blood orange-pomegranate, peach-oolong, cherry sour and strawberry-basil.

“We have a lot of hibiscus flowers, so we experiment with that, too,” says Greg. “Anything with hibiscus is usually good; add other items like peach, mango and lemonade to bring out the flavor.”

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new ingredients, notes Ashley, adding that the most important thing is getting the simple syrup mixture right. Ice pops made without proper sweetener often turn out rock hard, too watery and less flavorful.

Simple syrup, she explains, is equal parts sugar and water. Mix one cup of sugar with one cup of water and heat the solution until it’s reduced about 30 percent. That’s it.

Adult pops with panache

Jeff Anderson, the marketing and creative director for the Urban Orchard Cider Co., says the business has teamed up with The Hop to produce some fun flavor combos, and they plan to do it again this summer.

“Ours begin with our craft ciders,” he explains. To date, the cidery has created some 75 styles and flavor combinations driven by the region’s seasonal agriculture.

“Two of our favorites are April Skies (pineapple-lavender) and a blend of two others, Sidra del Diablo (habanero-vanilla) and Tainted Love (raspberry),” he says. “The Hop did a great job with both by adding fresh fruit and/or herbs to the Hopsicles to incorporate another visual element. For example, the April Skies Hopsicle had fresh lavender buds that put that special, handcrafted element into an already delicious adult ice pop.”

Anderson says Urban Orchard hopes to make some Hopsicles using its latest cider release, Boys of Summer, which boasts locally grown watermelon balanced by a touch of mint.

Mary Rich of Spirit Savvy, a craft cocktail events company, notes that since there’s alcohol in the pops, they’ll inevitably freeze a little softer.

“Don’t use more than 20 percent alcohol in each pop,” she advises. “Putting them in a cooler with dry ice should also help. And if worse comes to worst and your pops still end up too soft for the stick, it’s fine to enjoy them out of a small Mason jar, with a nice garnish.”

Buzz-free flavor inspirations

Brandon DeCurtins, the brains behind King of Pops, likes to style himself the “King of the Queen City.” His products, though, are available at the French Broad and Hendersonville food co-ops, and the company (which is actually based in Greenville, S.C., not Charlotte) is actively expanding in the Asheville market. The all-time favorite here, he reports, is the chocolate-sea salt, closely followed by raspberry-lime. Seasonal pops like blackberry-ginger-lemonade and blood orange, he continues, are also super “pop-ular.”

Two of DeCurtins’ own favorite flavor combos are coffee-and-doughnuts and hibiscus margarita, he says. But the key to producing delicious pops, says DeCurtins, is not skimping on the ingredients.

“Use juice from fresh, in-season fruit. Always use a little bit of citrus in your fruit-based pop. It brings out the flavors and brightens up the taste. And if you’re making a dairy-based pop, mix together milk and cream from a top-quality dairy. We love Round Mountain Creamery in Black Mountain.”

Sold on molds

Now that you’ve gotten some cool flavor ideas, it’s time to create your masterpiece. The Massachusetts-based Cold Molds provides The Hop’s siliconized rubber molds, which contain no dangerous additives such as PVC or BPA. The mold manufacturer’s website (coldmolds.com) also offers great tips for do-it-yourself pop-makers.

King of Pops, meanwhile, uses stainless steel molds from Ataforma in Argentina, but U.S. companies such as Zoku, Norpro and Mamasicles also offer viable choices. But if you’re on a budget, “The plastic molds you can find during the summer at most grocery stores are certainly adequate, too,” says DeCurtins.

And if you don’t want to invest in specialty molds, notes Rich, silicone ice-cube trays or even small paper cups work fine.

Although commercial ice pops are widely available, making them at home gives DIY food scientists a chance to experiment with flavors and their own creative recipes. So go get your chill on.

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