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Delights from the deep freeze; For cheap, healthy and fun treats, get hooked on homemade popsicles

Deep into the summer months, you've probably heard the ice cream truck rolling through the neighborhood.

Maybe you don't have spare change (or you don't want appetites ruined before supper time). And, if you see the delightful ice pop molds and makers available, you probably will be hooked on homemade. Making your own saves money, can be healthier and can be a fun activity for the family.

From a fresh fruit salad version to a banana split delight, choices for icy pops are limited only by what's in your refrigerator. Let the kids help, and you'll have a cooking lesson, too.

You can use almost anything for the mixture -- consider what you'd put in a smoothie and use that as a starting point. Bases for icy pops can start with juices and pureed fruit, yogurt, ice cream or pudding. Then have some fun with extras -- think pieces of fruit, toasted nuts, coconut or chocolate.

"One of the reasons I chose pops is because they're a fun kids treat," said Krystina Castella, author of "Pops!: Icy Treats for Everyone" (Quirk Books, $15.95).

Castella, a professor of industrial engineering at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., creates masterful pops -- globe-shaped, multilayered or translucent with suspended fruit. She has made molds from items found around her home.

"You have the creative element and the health advantage," said Castella. For the adult crowd, her book features cocktail pops.

For such a simple culinary process, there are a few recommendations that streamline the effort and make for better results.

*Plastic molds for making ice pops come in a variety of shapes --rockets, stars, the traditional Fudgsicle style -- with built-in sticks to hold, are available in kitchen specialty stores and craft stores, as well as You can also use small paper cups and insert wooden sticks from supermarkets or craft stores. Or use wooden or bamboo cocktail sticks for smaller pops. Try muffin tins and papers for a mold or silicone ice-cube molds for mini-versions. For more formal gatherings of adults, when a large dessert-on-a-stick would be awkward, try making any of these treats in shot glasses or timbale molds. For either, you can use a wooden craft stick, or simply serve the treat unmolded.

*If your mold doesn't have a handle to attach, you'll need to either add a wooden stick once the mixture is partially frozen, or use foil with a small cut in it on top of the mold and push the wooden stick through it to hold it in place while the mixture freezes.

*It sounds obvious, but check for space in your freezer before you are done. And make sure the space is level.

*A standard pop mold holds 1/3 cup of mixture. Allow at least a 1/4 -inch space at the top, as the mixture will expand with the cold.

*Sugar and alcohol keep the mixture from freezing. As Charity Ferriera points out in her terrific "Perfect Pops," consider the difference between an ice cube and a can of orange juice concentrate -- one is rock hard, and the other is slushy. The more sugar the mixture has, the softer it will be when frozen. So a frozen pop made of only iced tea will be a hard rock, but add a pureed fruit and it will soften up. That's true when alcohol is added to the mix, too. Only a small amount of liquor will usually work (2 to 3 tablespoons for 4 to 6 pops, for example), or it will prevent the mixture from freezing at all. You may want to do some experimenting to find the right proportion for your needs.

*Blenders work best for a smooth pop; food processors will give some texture to the mix.

*Start with cold ingredients for the best outcome. The icy pops need at least five hours in the freezer to be firm. It helps to have your freezer at the highest setting.

*You can make stripes or swirls in your icy pops, and you can mix in ingredients. For stripes, you'll need to freeze layers individually, allowing about 30 minutes between them before adding another layer. (If they are too solid, the next layer won't adhere.) For swirls, Ferriera says, use two thick mixtures (such as pudding) or use a liquid and an ice cream (the liquid freezes around the ice cream, creating streaks). So that mix-ins don't sink to the bottom, use a thicker mixture as the base.

*To unmold, run warm water over the exterior (if using plastic).

*The pops will last about a week in the freezer in the molds; they can be kept longer if taken out of the mold once frozen and stored in individual plastic bags to prevent freezer burn.

Perfectly ripe honeydew melons are extraordinarily juicy and sweet. They are rich in vitamin C and potassium, too. Layer the honeydew mixture with watermelon and cantaloupe variations for beautiful tri-colored pastel pops.

>Honeydew Melon Pops

4 cups diced (6 1/2 -inch cubes) ripe honeydew melon

1/3 cup plain yogurt

Juice of 3 limes

Grated zest of 1 lime

3 teaspoons honey

Combine 2 cups of melon, the yogurt and lime juice and zest in a food processor or blender; process until smooth. Add the honey; process again to combine. Stir in the remaining 2 cups melon.

Fill the pop molds with the mixture. Freeze for at least 6 hours.

Remove from the freezer. Let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes before removing the pops from the molds.

Recipe from "Pops!: Icy Treats for Everyone"

This recipe is a banana split on a stick.


>Banana Split Pops

1/2 banana (cut crosswise) for each pop

1 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

1/3 cup pineapple topping

1 1/2 cups chocolate ice cream

1/3 cup chocolate fudge

1 1/2 cups strawberry ice cream

1/3 cup strawberry topping

Whipped cream

1 maraschino cherry for each pop

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Stick banana halves onto pop sticks. Use paper cups as molds for these pops. Divide strawberry topping among the paper cup molds. Freeze for 1 hour.

Top with strawberry ice cream and pineapple topping. Freeze for 1 hour.

Top with vanilla ice cream and chocolate fudge. Add chocolate ice cream. Freeze for 6 hours.

Peel off and discard paper cups. Top each pop with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry.

Makes six 8-ounce pops or 8 six-ounce pops.

Recipe from "Pops!: Icy Treats for Everyone"

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