By day, Tracy King is an event photographer. By night, she transforms into something else entirely. “I am a closet baker”, she says. A clandestine foodie.
She is also the owner, manager and jack-of-all-trades, along with her husband Chris and children, Parker and Sara, of Cumberstone Ice Pops. The family sells more than 250 popsicles each week from their small freezer, which runs on three marine batteries, weighs more than one hundred pounds when loaded with ice-pops, thankfully rolls and which they haul to the Anne Arundel County Farmer’s Market at Westfield Annapolis Mall on Sundays and to the Riva Road market on Tuesdays.
Popsicles aren’t exactly a ground-breaking idea. There is an almost universal and timeless association between hot summer days and ice-cold, refreshingly sweet frozen treats. But modern pops are far removed from the saccharine, artificially flavored, plasticky ice pops of youth. Leaving aside commercial “all natural’ versions, pops are now made with hyper-fresh, local ingredients in small batches by inspired perfectionists like Tracy, who care deeply about where their food comes from and how it will arrive to the consumer.
Popsicles are a culinary trend on the rise since the mid 2000’s, when paletas were re-discovered in Latin America. The concept of frozen-fruit street treats was brought to America, where they arrived to conveniently find a food culture keen on organic and local produce, innovative flavors and artisan production. The trend began (as so many good things do) on the West Coast, spreading from L.A. to foodie towns like Honolulu and Portland, eventually making its way east to Miami and New York. These hot spots host a plethora of ice pop companies who hawk their wares from food trucks, corner stands, street fairs and farmer’s markets. Cumberstone Pops are the late but welcome (and only) ice-pop company in Anne Arundel County.
….Blackberry Yogurt Honey, Peach & Jalapeno, Raspberry Basil, Tarta de Lima, Pear Ginger Cream, Pineapple Salted Caramel, Café Cubano, Mexican Chocolate….
Tracy’s pops are made with local ingredients she harvests from her neighbor’s farm and from her own backyard near Harwood. They are chemical, preservative, gluten and dairy free. When she needs sugar, she uses organic evaporated cane juice, agave or honey. You won’t find artificial sweeteners and certainly not high fructose corn syrup in her products. Instead you will find handcrafted infusions, purees and emulsions that are made from scratch each week in small batches of ten or so. The pops actually taste like real fruit, real ingredients.
Tracy was not an expert popsicle maker. In fact, one day she randomly saw ice pops on Instagram and thought it would be fun to put her closet confectionary skills to work. She wanted to create a treat that is fresh, clean and healthy. Something that would appeal to both children and adults. Most importantly, she sought a way to connect with the farming community in South County, bringing their produce to market in an entirely new way.
Getting her business running hasn’t been as easy as you might think. Tracy creates her own recipes. She’s thrown out hundreds of “test pops” in her search for fun flavor combinations that are as delicious as they are unexpected. Beyond that challenge, she had to figure out how to source, procure and store any fresh fruit she didn’t grow herself. Once the pops are made, she has to freeze them at just the right temperature. That temperature has to be maintained during transport and sale in order to avoid freezer burn, which will rob the pops of flavor and doesn’t look pretty. She has to manage production costs for maximum profit and minimum waste, which requires finding the right balance of inventory for any given week, regardless of the circumstances.
Her efforts have paid off. “These are the best. The most incredibly, delicious best,” gushes a customer at the Westfield market last Sunday. A steady stream of customers stops by her freezer-on-wheels. Children intently read the flavors sign in hopes of a cool treat. Market mavens seek a dessert made with local products. Others want to chit chat about garden pests and summer harvests. All leave with smile and a promise to “be back next week”. After a week of hard work, only three pops remain.