Summer at our house is popsicle time.We eat popsicles for breakfast, lunch and dessert after dinner. We eat them when we're hot and sticky, like we've been most of this summer. Really, we eat popsicles any old time – they're refreshing, fun, and when they're not loaded with sugar and artificial food coloring like the ones you might buy in the store, they're a healthy and eco-friendly snack.
Popsicles are one of the easiest make-it-yourself treats both because they're quick (not counting freezing time), and because they use up fruit that might be too ripe to eat but very easy to puree. All you need to make popsicles is:
* some kind of mold to put the popsicle mixture in;
* a mixture of whatever you'd like to eat in your popsicle;
* a blender of some sort to puree the ingredients so you can pour them into your popsicle mold; and
* a funnel so you can easily pour the puree into the mold.
What Can You Put in Your Popsicles?
* plain juice
* juice plus pureed fruit
* yogurt plus fruit
* melted chocolate blended with peanut butter and bananas
* tofu, wheat germ, nuts or other foods to sneak a little nutritional power into your popsicle
* anything else you think would be good to eat frozen.
You can also experiment by adding different herbs, like mint, rosemary, and cilantro, to the popsicle mixture for an interesting tang.
When we were growing up, my mom used ice cube trays to freeze juice so we could have mini popsicles. These days, there are lots of different popsicle molds for sale – check your local hardware store, or buy online (we sell some in our Amazon store here).
I recently tested three different popsicle molds: the Onyx stainless steel (which the manufacturer provided me free of charge), a set of silicone push-up molds, and some traditional looking, BPA-free molds, both of which I bought at my local hardware store. (I ordered some Freezy Cup Stainless Steel molds, but they didn't arrive in time for this post.)
I washed out all the molds then set them up so I could fill them once I made the mixture for my favorite Lemon-Strawberry Yogurt Pops.
RECIPE FOR LEMON-STRAWBERRY YOGURT POPS
About two cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in half
Juice of 1/2 lemon, about 2 tablespoons juice
2 tablespoons honey (you could also use raw agave nectar)
1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
I pureed the strawberries, pulsed in the lemon juice and honey, then added the yogurt. I blended everything until it was smooth enough to pour into the molds.
I used a teaspoon to fill each mold; next time, I'm going to use a funnel, which will make less of a mess!
Once they were filled, I popped all of the molds into the freezer.
All of the popsicles froze in about the same amount of time – 3 1/2 hours.
I ran each popsicle under warm water for a few seconds to loosen it from its mold.
All of the popsicles tasted the same, of course. And though the molds were shaped differently, each one made a pretty big popsicle. (You can make the popsicles smaller by putting less filling in each mold. You don't want to overfill, since liquids expand when they freeze). I thought that the square blocks and the silicone push-ups were easier to eat than the Onyx, but the Onyx are probably a little environmentally safer. Here are the pros and cons of each mold:
SILICONE PUSH UP MOLDS – PROS – These popsicles were the easiest to eat and the least messy to use. As the popsicle melts, it pretty much drips down into the bottom of the mold, and it's easy to slurp up the juice at the bottom after you've finished the popsicle. Plus, there's no after-taste from the food touching the silicone. Also, there are no sticks required, so there's less waste. And the molds come in a simple box that can be completely recycled.
CONS – Right now, the jury is still out on the safety of food-grade silicone, since its use is relatively new and few studies have been done on whether it has human health impacts. I don't use silicone baking sheets or other silicone utensils if they are going to be exposed to high heat, as heat changes the chemical nature of all kinds of products and renders some of them harmful (think Teflon). But for popsicles, where the environment is a frozen one and the major process at work is freezing rather than heating, I think silicone would be fine. Another con is that only four molds come in a box. If you want to make more popsicles at one time, you need to buy two boxes of molds.
ONYX STAINLESS STEEL MOLDS – PROS:These molds are stainless steel, which, along with glass, seems to be universally accepted as the safest food container to use. They make big popsicles.They come six to a tray, so as long as you have room in your freezer for the tray, you can make a lot of popsicles at once.
CONS: The Onyx mold has a little stainless steel tray at the base of the stick that's designed to catch drips. But I found that when I tipped the popsicle sideways, the liquid on the tray dripped all over me. Also, I found it hard to get to the very bottom of the popsicle, since it was so close to the tray. The Onyx came packaged in lots of trashy plastic bags, which surprised me. Also, it uses wooden popsicle sticks that the manufacturer says can be re-used as long as they haven't been chewed on. I tried washing my popsicle stick after I used it, but it didn't hold up very well. I don't think I'd use it more than twice without tossing it. I imagine most kids will chew up their sticks any way (mine sure did when they were little.)
FREEZY CUPS STAINLESS STEEL MOLDS – PROS: I did not have a chance to try these out personally. According to the manufacturer, "Ours do not require to be installed in a tray and can be frozen individually in the freezer. The lid is very similar (to the Onyx). The sticks are reusable bamboo and the molds stand in the refrigerator on their own." This individual mold would be good if you wanted to make a few popsicles but not necessarily a whole tray-ful. Freezy Cups are mailed in a plastic-free package. Another BIG Pro in favor of Freezy Cups is that proceeds benefit the work of Life Without Plastic, a wonderful company that is devoted to ridding the world of plastic.
CONS: Even though they say the sticks are reusable bamboo, I found that I probably wouldn't use the stick more than twice before throwing it away. They may also have the same drip tray problem as the Onyx molds.
BPA-FREE PLASTIC MOLDS – PROS: This makes a big rectangular popsicle that is particularly well-suited for creamy, fruit-filled popsicles. It's easy to eat the entire popsicle without interference from a catch tray at the bottom. CONS: Well, it is still plastic, BPA-free or no. Also, the molds are part of a tray that must be used in the freezer all together. If you don't have room for the entire tray, you can't use the mold. Finally, this mold, too, requires the use of throwaway popsicle sticks. If you didn't use the tray lid, you could probably insert butter knives into the molds as a reuseable stick alternative. If you give that a try, let me know how it goes.
BOTTOM LINE: Making your own popsicles offers lots of benefits. You can make safe and healthy popsicles free of excess sugar and food coloring from the fresh ingredients you love most. You can use up fruit you might otherwise have to throw away. You can sneak in some extra nutrients to make popsicles that pack a nutritional punch. You can avoid a lot of throwaway packaging, since once you buy the mold, you don't have to buy boxes of popsicles that may come wrapped in plastic or in cardboard coated with thin plastic film. Making popsicles is something the entire family can do together. Even a two- or three-year old can help fill popsicle molds!
There are lots of safe popsicle molds on the market. I would recommend the silicone push-ups, the Freezy Cups, or the Onyx stainless steel molds rather than BPA-free plastic or regular plastic. If you use the Freezy Cups on the Onyx stainless steel molds, experiment with reusable butter knives or teaspoons as an alternative to throwaway sticks.
GREEN MOMS CARNIVAL: Making your own popsicles is one way to have "food independence," the theme of this month's Green Moms Carnival, hosted by Abbie over at The Farmer's Daughter. Make sure you read about the steps other green moms are taking to make their own food.