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10,000 Licks: The Simple Joy of a Fruit Popsicle

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

Minneapolis ice pop producer 10,000 Licks wants you to help launch their fledgling business through a Kickstarter campaign: “We think we’ve got the makings of successful business,” says cofounder Andi McDaniel in the campaign’s video, during which her voiceover is accompanied by fanciful, cartoon ice pops dancing across the Stone Arch bridge, the Minneapolis sky line, and the whiskers of a nonplussed cat. “One that would bring joy and whimsy and nostalgia and just sweetness to Minnesota in the summertime.”

In mid-July, we met up with McDaniel and her partner in ice pops, Sarah Newberry, at the Fulton Farmers Market. It was their first day at market and — excessive heat, passing thunderstorms, and a few ice box issues not withstanding — things were going well. Passersby were enticed by the brightly colored pops to stop for a sample, and sales seemed good, especially among small people. We enjoyed a lightly sweet, refreshing watermelon-mint pop, a lush strawberry-basil pop (more basil please!), and a creamy blueberry-lemon grass pop. However, our favorite was the ginger-cantaloupe, which was slightly sweet with a sly, spicy heat from the ginger. Like a good, homemade sorbet, all of the pops tasted just like their fruits, flavors that were enhanced rather than enveloped by sweeteners. “Ice pops are simple and nostalgic and fleeting,” says McDaniel. “We had someone refer to our sweet-corn pop as ‘summer on a stick.’ That should be our tagline; it embodies summer. It’s not like hotdish, it’s not complicated, it’s simple and it delivers.”

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

McDaniel and Newberry both have day jobs — journalist and music therapist, respectively — and so have had to bring 10,000 Licks to life in the in between times, making licensing calls at lunch, testing recipes, and engaging the blogosphere at night and on weekends. They are producing the pops in the shared kitchen at Thuro Bread in St. Paul, and source as much of their organic fruit as they can locally, through farmers markets and co-ops, and the rest through Upper Midwest organics distributor  Co-op Partners. “I love the traditional four seasons and really celebrate all of them,” says McDaniel. “The ice pops grew out of that. Well, it’s a combination of loving weird flavors of ice cream and appreciating that summer is so short here and so spectacular. Pops are an easy way to capitalize on our short growing cycle and really good produce.”

“I worked on organic farms for several years,” she adds. “So that’s something that’s really important to me — ultimately, I want to have my own organic farm. I’m never more at home than when I’m harvesting herbs, bringing them inside, and chopping them into something. And that’s what I like about the ice pops; they’re just one step above that raw ingredient.”

One important step. For a home cook, the most difficult aspect of making a popsicle is water balance. Many a popsicle has come out of the freezer bright with fruity goodness only to diminish to an ice cube with a few good licks. 10,000 Licks’ pops are deliciously pulpy and fruity ’til the last lick. “I didn’t realize it would be such a challenge,” says McDaniel. “When you Google it, people will say you can freeze anything, but it’s not true. Our initial pops were not delicious; they had a good flavor but the texture was inconsistent and they were icy.”

After much experimentation, McDaniel and Newberry discovered that — again, much like sorbet — pops need a base that can carry the fruit or vegetable juice. They use a simple syrup made with local honey and infused with herbs as the base for most of their pops, but say it’s not a science and each flavor reacts differently. As one might expect, berries have a great consistency that lends itself well to the process, distributing fruit and water evenly to make a nice consistent texture; whereas lavender lemonade, with its high water content, wants to turn to ice. Sweet corn pops need a sugar-based simple syrup or they won’t stay on the stick.

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

The other piece of advice McDaniel offers is to let your mixture cool completely before freezing. She is still a bit traumatized over a batch of chai pops that went horribly awry, likely because she poured it into the molds and stuck it in the freezer scalding hot, causing her to waste a lot of product. “Cool, stir, and freeze,” she admonishes.

McDaniel and Newberry believe funky flavors, quality pops, and local spirit will carry the company. “Starting out, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a company in the Twin Cities making popsicles out of fresh, local ingredients? I guess we’ll have to do it!'” says McDaniel. “So we’re kind of saying to our community, if you think it would be cool to have this, too, support us — and we’ll be here for you down the road.”

The 10,000 Licks Kickstarter campaign has until Sunday, August 28, 2011, to raise $10,000. McDaniel and Newberry are offering rewards for each of their 11 sponsor levels, which start at $5 and run to $1,500, including free pops, sweet tote bags, recipes, a popsicle named after YOU, and, yes, singing popsicle grams. At press time, a day into the campaign, they had 12 supporters, pledging a total of $1,500.

Kickstarter or no, you can support 10,000 Licks and your own summertime joie de vivre by picking up pops at the Fulton Farmers Market every weekend through September. You’ll also find them at various and sundry events around town — such as the IATP Bike & Bite, August 13 — look for updates on their Facebook and Twitter sites.

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

By Susan Pagani

Susan Pagani is a Minneapolis-based editor and writer. Her work has previously appeared in newspapers and magazines in Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Berkeley. She has also contributed essays to Minnesota Lunch and The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food.

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