Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri learn why Andover, Massachusetts, is the place to go for ice cream sandwich center molds, and why cone-making is not for weaklings. Read all the installments.

I keep having to let go of my shame for not noticing things, and also for not knowing anything.
I had noticed for a long time that the truck didn’t stand up straight. But I didn’t know why until we went to get new tires. The tire guy was walking around the truck and walking around the truck, and finally he said, “There are three different sizes of tires on this truck.” Argh! And he’d quoted me $884 on the phone for the six new tires, but it ended up costing around $1,000 instead, because I’d read off the model number of the smallest tire to him when I’d called to ask for a quote.

But it’s like that with everything. Every single thing has taken longer and cost more than I thought it would.
The truck arrived the last week of February. We hoped to be up and running April 1. And now, um, it’s the middle of May. If we were loaded, we would just take the truck to a shop and they’d fix everything in two days. As it is we have Kurt, who has a day job and can only help us on the truck after work, so everything takes a long time. He’s doing this so cheaply, almost as a lark, so we can’t rush things. We just have to sit back and be patient.

Not having the money to do things the standard way makes things much more complicated.
The truck only has one seat in it, and we need a jump seat. So I asked a handyman I know about it, and he said “I can do that for you.” I had this romantic vision of him building us a jump seat or something. But then he came back to me and said, “I found a jump seat on Craigslist! It’s $250 for the seat and shipping and $50 for the seatbelt that goes along with it.” We did end up getting the seat but we decided to try to salvage a belt from a shipyard.

Meanwhile, with the truck taking so long, we figured we’d get started on the recipes for ice cream sandwiches and popsicles. We hadn’t set out to make those originally. But we’d bought a truck that came with a freezer on board, and it would be stupid not to utilize it. And you can’t use it for soft-serve. So we bought a couple of small hard-ice-cream makers to make the ice cream for the sandwiches. We also had to buy molds for the sandwiches. Which turned out to be insanely expensive, another one of those weird little expenses that keep happening. You can’t buy them in a restaurant supply store or anything, you have to buy them from the company that makes them, in Andover, Massachusetts, and they cost $18.95 for six little centers. We’re going to buy 10 of those sets to start so we can make 60 sandwiches at a time.

So first, you make the ice cream, and then when it’s still soft, you spoon it into the molds, you cover the tops with waxed paper, and then you put them in the freezer. Waxed paper is good because it doesn’t stick or make folds or bubbles the way plastic wrap does. I’m a big fan of waxed paper. We’re still experimenting with flavors, but we made an incredible tangerine ice cream which we sandwiched between lemon cookies, and when you bite into it, it’s a burst of delightful citrus.

We also tried making our own cones, which Siri had to drag me into, kicking and screaming, because it’s such a pain in the ass. They’re sort of like tuiles: beat egg whites, then add butter, sugar, and flour. It makes a crepe-type batter that you drop into a Swedish cookie press. You take them out, then quickly wrap them around cornet molds we bought. If you do it too soon, you burn your fingers. If you wait too long, the cone isn’t soft enough to mold, and it breaks. And it’s hard to get the cones closed just right on the bottom so the ice cream doesn’t drip out.

I can do about three of them before I’m like, no. My fingers are burned.
I would want to blow them off completely if they weren’t so good. I mean, SO good! Delicate, like a fresh cookie, so incredibly tasty. They are worlds away from a typical mass-produced cone. I agreed to sign on to making them, provided we hire someone else to do it. We have a couple of people lined up who say they’ll do it, but I bet they last a day before they’re done, too.

The popsicles have proved much easier to get the flavors right, but I haven’t been able to find molds for those.
I’ve looked everywhere! Everyone had those little Tupperware molds with the plastic things in them when they were kids, but those aren’t practical for us. We need a way to put popsicle sticks in, as well as something that either closes at the top or is flat at the bottom and can be set upright. Otherwise, as you quickly find out, they will spill. All over the freezer. We’ve been using paper cups in the absence of a better idea, and we’re considering using those cone-shaped cups that come with water coolers, but we can’t figure out how to freeze them upright. Not yet, anyway. But the flavors are out of sight! Since fruit flavors proved so hard to get in the soft serve, we’ve been focusing on fruit flavors for the popsicles. We had a strawberry mint that made me swoon. Cucumber lime, strawberry lemonade, grapefruit Riesling, pineapple orange with ginger, grapefruit pineapple with vanilla.

We tried kiwi too. It tasted wonderful, but it looked like swamp water.
We probably won’t make those again.

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