SCREAMED FOR ICE CREAM MADE AT MOUNT HOPE
The Panama Canal Spillway - September 28, 1979
Ice cream, by any other name, would be just as delicious, especially if it was made at the Mount Hope Milk and Ice Cream Plant under the expert supervision of Plant Manager Richard Koyner. Unfortunately, the plant ceases production today and with its closing another permanent alteration takes place in our daily lives.
Originally from Holland, Koyner has been the Plant Manager for the past twelve years. Graduating from diary college in Holland, he went to work for his country's Ministry of Agriculture. In 1953 he took a leave of absence from his job to come to Panama as part of a technical assistance program helping set up Panama's powdered milk plant in Concepcion, Chiriqui. He liked Panama so well that he resigned his job in Holland and came to stay, buying a farm in Boquete. A friend told him that the Panama Canal Company needed a manager for the plant in Mount Hope and urged him, because of his qualifications, to at least come down and look the place over. He did, liked what he saw, and again decided to stay.
The Mount Hope plant produces various kinds of milk (reconstituted whole milk, "filled" milk, buttermilk, and chocolate milk), cottage cheese, ice milk, two grades of ice cream (regular and premium), chocolate covered ice cream bars, sherbert, eggnog, the liquid milkshake base which supplies the drive-in at Ancon and military cafeterias, and the "Mindi" cartoned fruit drinks and iced tea. All of the dairy products are made with powdered skimmed milk. The plant has been producing 30,000 gallons of reconstituted whole milk each month, 8.000 gallons of chocolate milk, 25,000 gallons of ice cream and 3,500 pounds of cottage cheese.
Ice cream is probably America's favorite dessert and has been around for a long time, purportedly having been brought from the far east by Marco Polo. European court chefs tried unsuccessfully to keep it for the use of nobility only, but anything that good was bound to out. It's been manufactured in the Canal Zone since 1908, when it was produced by the Commissary Department in Cristobal. An ice cream plant was part of the cold storage unit built in Mount Hope in 1919, and the current facility has been in operation since 1955.
Back in the early days the Commissary Department used to publish an "Ice Cream Schedule" informing customers of the days on which certain flavors would be available. Vanilla was always on hand, but the other flavors (which in 1916 included chocolate, pineapple, bisque, peach, coffee, caramel, strawberry and banana) were rotated. At the Mount Hope plant seven flavors have been standard - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, Neapolitan, butterbrickle, cherry and walnut. The same basic mix is used for all flavors of ice cream with the exception of chocolate, which is made separately. To the basic mixture are added flavorings, fruits and nuts.
The special flavor-of-the-month ice creams often have come from customer suggestions. If there were no suggestions, Koyner and his staff thought up something themselves. Some flavors required planning ahead because the flavorings had to be specially ordered, but some, said Koyner, were easy, especially coffee and rum and raisin because the ingredients were carried in stock at the Supply Division.
Fruits and flavorings for the standard flavors were regularly ordered in large quantities. Cherries, for example, were ordered in fifty-gallon drums, ten at a time. The premium ice cream, such as French vanilla custard, has a higher butterfat content than regular ice cream, and fruit is added to it in proportionately greater quantity than to the regular ice cream. The premium product also has less air or "overrun."
Ice cream obtains its texture from having air beaten into it - the more air, the more overrun. An overrun of one hundred percent would mean, for example, that one gallon of unfrozen ice cream mix would have enough air beaten into it to fill two one-gallon cartons. Or, to bring the example even closer to home, each spoonful you put in your mouth would be half air. Overrun means profit in the commercial ice cream business, explains Koyner, but the Mount Hope plant never went as high as a hundred percent, though some commercial producers do. Sherbet is made from a basic mix just as ice cream is, but contains less fat, a little more sugar, citric acid and fruit bases.
Everything in Mount Hope plant has always been sanitary and Koyner estimates that about one fifth of each working day has been spent in cleaning. Each day the equipment is disassembled, washed and sterilized. The production techniques used at the plant have fascinated visitors. Just inside the door is a 300 gallon vat where an average of 600 pounds of cottage cheese is made at a time. Milk is pasteurized and homogenized in huge stainless steel vats from which the milk passes in overhead pipes to a cooler and then on to be cartoned.
A special machine unfolds the flat milk cartons, passes them over a hot plate that melts their plastic coating, folds the bottom and cools it to seal it shut. An arm reaches over and picks up the cartons, setting them upright on a conveyor belt which carries them under spigots where they stop long enough to be filled before continuing along to have their tops automatically closed and sealed. The filled cartons are taken by hand from the conveyor and placed in boxes to be stored in the cold room until delivery to the various commissaries and service centers. Koyner, by the way, has recently had many requests for empty cartons from persons who wish to save them as Canal Zone souvenirs.
The packaging of ice cream and sherbet is a semi-automatic operation with the cartons being placed by hand under a pipe from which the partially frozen mixture is extruded. The filled cartons are passed on to another employee who folds down the flaps or puts a lid on the carton. The cartons are then placed in wire baskets and put in the freezing room which is maintained at a temperature of -20 degrees F.
Nowadays the frozen produce is sent from the plant by truck in specially insulated shippers 30 cubic feet in size and arrives at the various outlets in perfect condition. The trip across the Isthmus was not always so easy. Back in 1916, for example distribution was a real problem, with ice cream, nesselrode pudding and water ices often arriving in a messy, semi-melted condition after their long train ride with stops at the "line" commissaries along the way.
The Mount Hope plant is out of business as of today, the building remains with the Commission, as does Koyner himself, who will be assisting in the near future with the closeout operations of the Supply Division.
December 24, 1998