For many of us, Popsicles occupy a disproportionately large spot in our hearts and minds, harking back to a time when walking to the store for a chocolate or banana double was a day-brightening event, especially if you were with a pal and succeeded at cleaving the conjoined pair into two against a park bench. It must be this sensory nostalgia – I can't lick a Popsicle without smelling fresh-cut grass and sprinkler water hitting hot pavement – that makes the frozen treats so irresistible, even in their basic, corner-store form.
But we're grown-up now, with (mostly) grown-up palates. As it happens, so are ice pops, which have gone upscale and artisanal, exploding in a kaleidoscope of options. These days, they are handmade with fresh fruit, herbs, teas and spices; the bases might be icy or creamy, fat-free or decadent. Some even contain alcohol – how grown-up is that? You can find them everywhere this summer, from grocery stores and farmers' markets to street fairs and music festivals.
For Pamela Martinez of Wild Child's Kitchen, a vegetarian-food booth that launched at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto last summer, making pops is as sweet as eating them. Hers started out with flavours including hibiscus and chai and this season she has expanded both her offerings and her outlets.
"I use all-natural ingredients and don't use refined sugar or dairy," says Martinez, whose pops are now sold at such Toronto events as the Christie Pits Film Festival and the Leslieville Flea. "Everything is fresh. And if I use a nut milk, I make it myself." Among her Popsicle hits this summer are The Cool Guy (containing honeydew and cucumber) and Bombay Summer (with mango, cardamom and lime).
Meanwhile, in Montreal, chef Julio Guajardo is serving up paletas, the ice pops of his Mexican childhood, through La Catrina, his mobile food business.
"When I was a kid, you could find paletas everywhere. At little stores or carts around the city, at the beach. There, the guys would even wade into the sea with the paletas!" he recalls. "You could also go into a paletaria, where they'd have up to 18 or 20 flavours, with chunks of fruit, nuts or vegetables. One of my favourites was pine nut and strawberry."
Now he and his partner, Kate Chomyshyn, blend Guajardo's memories with fresh ideas and flavours; the results, which they distribute through a loyal following of restaurants and coffee shops, change all the time, but might include such unique pairings as pineapple-chili, beet Fudgsicles or avocado, coconut and lime. (If you happen to work out at DNA Fitness in downtown Montreal, you can also try La Catrina's special high– and low-calorie mixes as well as their pops for pre– and post-workout).
For all of the sophisticated flavour options now available, however, Popsicles retain their original charm. No matter how fancy the fruit or organic the agave, after all, eating a frozen treat on a stick can still make anyone feel like a little kid. Bring on the brain freeze and sticky fingers!
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN GROWN-UP POPS
Despite the panoply of great, ready-made Popsicles available across Canada, making your own is both easy and fun. All you'll need are some Popsicle moulds (either basic plastic versions similar to ice-cube trays or higher-end models that, when prefrozen, work much faster), a handful of sticks (often but not always included with the moulds) and, of course, a delicious mixture to freeze. Here's how to go about it.
• For FRUIT POPS, make a simple syrup of 1 part water and 1 part sugar, then simmer it on the stovetop until slightly thickened. If you want the full flavour of fresh fruit, you don't even have to cook it. Just combine ripe fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, melon, peaches, mango, cherries – with the simple syrup and purée until smooth. Strain (or don't, if you want a chunkier blend), then add your favourite herbs, spices, a few drops of lemon or lime or a bit of alcohol such as vodka or rum. (Don't add more than a tablespoon of alcohol per 6 pops or you might have trouble with freezing.) Pour the mixture into your moulds and freeze for 6 hours or overnight.
• Popsicles with more fat freeze into A CREAMIER TEXTURE. For coffee, coconut, dulce de leche, chocolate or other dairy-based pops, make a mix by combining a good hit of your chosen flavour with light cream or a mix of milk and cream. (Alternatively, go vegan and use coconut milk instead.) Add flavour accents such as vanilla, cinnamon, rum or whatever else you might want, then get those pops into the freezer.
• For POPS WITH EVEN MORE BODY, make a custard with egg yolks and scalded cream as you would for an ice cream. When cool, add your desired flavour – vanilla bean, caramel, strawberry – and strain. These pops will have a much richer, dessert-like texture.