ICE CREAM. It’s one of those classic, feel-good desserts we could never get tired of. Whether you love your ice cream plain with no frills or you prefer it mixed with caramel, fruit and nuts — there is no shortage of options at supermarkets where ice cream containers, local and foreign, cup size or tub size stare back at us behind closed freezer doors. But no store-bought ice cream can really compare to homemade ice cream, both in cost and taste.
Take a trip to northeast Trinidad and ask anyone in Toco and they would tell you that the only thing better than homemade ice cream is Miss Babbsie’s homemade ice cream.
In the course of 13 years, Miss Babbsie’s ice cream went from being a mere side business to somewhat of an institution. Everyone in Toco knows Babbsie Ramlagan, or Miss Babbsie, from the adults who make a stop by her parlour as part of their family outing, to the schoolchildren who head straight into her shop after school where she doles out ice cream cones which they enjoy on the walk back home.
Talk of Miss Babbsie’s homemade ice cream has reached far and wide. People from all parts of the country have been known to climb the steps of her parlour in search of her ice cream which they’ve heard stories about and foreigners visiting the village for the first time usually schedule a pit stop at Miss Babbsie’s. Saturday and Sundays are the busiest days of the week and holiday times are usually a mess, that’s when Miss Babbsie can’t seem to make enough ice cream.
So what is it that makes her ice cream so special? Miss Babbsie uses an old-fashioned ice cream maker which she and her son turn by hand. First she puts in her mixture in the canister and adds ice and rock salt in layers right around it. Then the turning begins until the handle can’t turn anymore and the ice cream has reached that hard texture and is just right. It takes her about an hour to make her first pail. After that the process gets a bit simpler and takes less time. If Miss Babbsie is not open in the morning, chances are she’s at home cranking that ice cream maker, stocking up on some of her customer’s favourite flavours before she opens her parlour at three in the afternoon. Every week Miss Babbsie churns out coconut, cherry-coconut, guiness, rum and raisin, peanut, soursop, barbadine, chocolate and seamoss ice cream. A favourite among her customers is her Guinness ice cream but Miss Babbsie has her own personal favourite — coconut.
But there is one special ingredient in her famous ice cream.
“I make it with love because you know you have to love what you do as well,” Miss Babbsie said with a laugh. “I feel real joy knowing how much people love my ice cream.”
Miss Babbsie herself has been an ice cream lover since she was a child. She grew up in Chaguanas and would watch as her mother would make the treat for the family every Sunday. A little over a decade ago, Miss Babbsie was experiencing family problems and had to make a new life for herself and her children. It was a particularly distressing and uncertain time for her as she contemplated what her next move would be.
“I prayed to God and asked him to open a way for me. I heard a voice tell me: ‘Make ice cream and sell it’. God put everything in my head,”she said.
Miss Babbsie began selling on the pavement, then moved into a small wooden structure.
“I used to feel ashamed but my children would say to me “don’t worry we here with you too”. Then when people started buying my ice cream, I started to feel good. The more customers I got the more ice cream I would make,”she added.
Now Miss Babbsie has a well-established parlour, which has helped her fix up her house and get a vehicle. She’s open for business every day.
“I feel good knowing I accomplished what I set out to do. Some women feel that they can’t do anything but they could if they only try. Everyone has a gift. Women could do anything they want to do, just ask God and put in the effort,”she advised.
So if you’re in Toco this weekend, why not make a stop at Miss Babbsie’s Parlour on Paria Main Road, Cumana, Toco (right by the RC School) and treat yourself to a cone of delicious homemade ice cream?