One of the biggest misconceptions about making ice cream is that it’s cold where it’s made.
On this Monday morning, a dozen humming freezers and coolers along the walls of Brain Freeze Creamery in Spokane Valley keeps the temperature at a balmy 85 degrees.
“On a really hot day when everything is up and running, it gets to be 100 degrees in here,” said Nathan Purdum, 21, chief ice cream maker at Brain Freeze. “People always think it’s freezing where we work.”
Purdum became an ice cream maker by chance.
He was working as a lot attendant at a downtown car dealership when Brain Freeze came up for sale and his parents, Tom and Julie Purdum, bought the small local business. The previous owner helped Nathan Purdum get started on his creamery career.
“I guess I was kind of thrown into it,” Purdum said, smiling.
He likes his job, especially coming up with new flavors.
Brain Freeze’s summer best-seller is salted caramel ice cream, a rather pedestrian name compared to Crayonberry Sorbet, Tan Navel & Shorts, and Muddy Cups, Dirty Dishes.
He remembers buying Brain Freeze ice cream at the first Scoop on South Perry Street, where The Lantern Tavern is now located.
“I loved going in there, and never in my wildest imagination did I think I was going to be making the ice cream one day,” Purdum said.
Ice cream making is obviously a seasonal business.
During summer, orders are constantly ticking in and Purdum manages inventory, orders ingredients, and delivers the ice cream to retail outlets and restaurants in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, and to their one account in Pullman.
“We are not in any grocery stores,” Purdum said. “It’s just too difficult to manage.”
Any batch of ice cream starts with a bag of ice cream mix delivered from Snoqualmie Dairy.
After meticulously cleaning the two ice cream machines, Purdum and his assistant and good friend Tyler Reeves fire up the contraptions. They look much like clothes dryers but have smaller doors and a big auger inside. And they are cold, of course.
Purdum pours a bucket of ice cream mix into the machine and turns it on.
“This is what makes the ice cream smooth and fluffy,” Nathan Purdum said. “Essentially it cools the mix down and whips air into it.”
He watches the process through a little trap door, and it takes 10 to 15 minutes for the mix to reach the desired creamy consistency.
Most flavors are added as the ice cream pours from the machine into the big tub it will be stored and delivered in.
Reeves is making a batch of Circus: cotton candy flavored ice cream with frosted animal cookies and sprinkles.
“It looks pretty good,” Reeves said, as he turned the tub that the ice cream poured into and gradually mixed in cookies and sprinkles by hand. “It doesn’t always turn out as planned.”
“When we made the last batch of huckleberry ice cream it looked like an explosion in here,” he said. “We made such a mess and got it all over the place.”
Purdum said he has put in a lot of 10- to 12-hour days and has pretty much said goodbye to summer vacations, but he really likes his job.
“It’s amazing being this young and being your own boss,” Purdum said.
His dad, Tom Purdum, stops by midmorning to check on things. Tom Purdum is responsible for bookkeeping and other management, but pretty much leaves the production up to his son and Reeves.
He said Brain Freeze has almost doubled its sales this summer compared to last and has expanded to the unit next door at the strip mall where the creamery is located.
Nathan Purdum shrugs: “We thought we had so much space here and now we are out of space.”
Tom Purdum said he has no dreams of becoming the new Ben and Jerry’s.
“We’d like to be the big-boy regional ice cream company,” he said.
Brain Freeze’s menu features about 70 year-round flavors and 30 seasonal flavors, and there are constantly new flavors being tried out.
“One of the weirdest ones was tomato sorbet – that didn’t really work out,” Nathan Purdum said. “We are trying out sweet corn flavors, like maybe sweet corn and raspberry.”
Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere.
“We watch the Food Network a lot,” Tom Purdum said, “and when we go out for dinner we look at the menus and think of ice cream flavors.”
Recently, Brain Freeze made a hot wing-flavored ice cream for a restaurant – omitting the chicken.
“The restaurant loved it,” Tom Purdum said, “but they also thought it was kind of weird and that no one was going to order it.”
The carrot cake ice cream was a hit.
Requests for rose petal ice cream continue to come in, but they haven’t quite figured out a recipe.
“It would take a lot of petals,” Purdum said, contemplating a recipe.
The seasonal maple bar bacon flavor comes out in the fall.
“Then we have bacon all over the place,” Tom Purdue said.
He adds that Brain Freeze does its best to use natural ingredients and as few artificial flavors as possible.
Adding a professional oven has made it possible for the creamery to bake brownies for mixing with the ice cream.
They also make their own cookie dough.
So do they smell kind of vanilla sweet when the day is over?
“No, that’s not it,” Purdum said, laughing. “It’s more like a sour smell. Like the dairy rubbed off on you or something.”
Brain Freeze produces upward of 50 gallons of ice cream a week, Purdum said.
“We go with the flow; some days you are slammed and some days you are not,” he said. “We try to have fun with it. You can’t be too serious and make ice cream at the same time.”