When I boarded the tiny island-hopper to San Pedro Airport a few weeks ago, my heart was pounding out of my chest with eager anticipation. As the plane began its descent towards land, I squirmed around in my seat, searching for the familiar set of turquoise roofs. Meanwhile, my leg did a jittery tap-tap-tap dance around the floor, which I assume my seatmate loved. San Pedro is only a short fifteen-minute ride from Belize City — a journey that pales in comparison to the ten-hour series of flights from Portland to Belize — and yet, those minutes seemed to drag on for days.
Always do, always have.
I’ve been coming to this island, and to the same resort on the island, since I was six years old. When the roads were unpaved and there were no cars. When we stayed in the small gathering of a few modest thatch-roofed huts on the south end of the island and there wasn’t an Air Conditioning unit in sight. Just the warm island breezes, a few rickety golf carts, and the lulling calm of lapping waves. Over the next twenty-two years, I’d develop a relationship of sorts with the island as, for better or worse, I watched it grow and change.
It’s where I had my first open-water dive experience followed by my first sip of the most perfect piña colada in all the world. I was too young to add rum to it at the time, but the creamy white fruitiness that spilled from its straw was enough to lure me in forever. Plus, I’ve made up for the earlier lack of rum in the years that followed. I’ll just throw a floater on top of this one just, you know, to make up for lost time.
It’s where my husband and I lazed around for two weeks over our honeymoon, unable to keep our hands off of each other and actually giggly over our new husband-wife status. With piña coladas fixed firmly in our right hands, we’d each hold our left hand out in front of us, mesmerized by the contrast of our shiny silver rings against the vibrant blue-green tropical background.
And it’s where I scattered a portion of my sister’s ashes, knowing there is nowhere else she’d rather spend eternity. Still, to this day, I’m convinced a piece of her is casually lazing around in those waters, in the air, waiting for me to return and order two piña coladas – one for me and one for her – both with a little extra rum and a cherry on top.
I always do.
I have more I want to share with you about that last bit, and I hope in time I’ll develop the courage to do so, but for now I want to leave you with a no-churn, end-of-summer ice cream to honor the island that has brought me more joy than I can properly convey in written word. That healed me through some of my darkest moments in life. And that introduced me to the world’s most iconic daiquiri, filled with creamy coconut milk, sweet tropical pineapple, and rich, dark Caribbean rum—the Piña Colada. Today, in the form of ice cream.
- 2 tablespoons of butter, divided into 1 and 1
- 2 cups of pineapple, chopped into pieces that are about the size of a raisin or smaller
- ½ cup of dark rum
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla
- ½ cup of light brown sugar
- 1 13-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup of coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
- mint, for garnish (optional)
- Heat butter, rum, vanilla, and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until combined.
- In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Once melted, add pineapple and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, cook for 1 more minute, and add the rum mixture to the pineapple. Continue to cook over medium-high until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 5-10 minutes. Turn off heat and set skillet aside.
- Combine the condensed milk, coconut milk, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl (about 4-5 quarts, at least). Set aside and whip the whipping cream, either by hand or using a stand mixer, until it forms soft peaks. This is the point where you can lift the beater or whisk upright and the point on the whipped cream will fold over slightly but will stay on the whisk. If its point sticks straight up, you’ve overwhipped. If it slides off or doesn’t form a point at all, you’ve underwhipped and should keep going. Check often so that you don’t overwhip.
- Gently fold the whipping cream into the bowl containing the condensed milk mixture. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to gently fold it by scooping up from the bottom and bringing it up over the top. This will keep the airbubbles in the whipped cream from breaking, which they would do if you stirred instead of folding.
- Add a third of the cream mixture to a freezable container (I find a loaf pan works well), sprinkle with roughly half of the pineapple mixture including some of the nectar. Repeat and finish off by sprinkling any remaining pineapple or nectar over the top. Press plastic wrap over the top to prevent air from seeping in and freeze container for at least 6 hours.
- Before serving, let the ice cream sit out at room temperature for roughly 10 minutes. Letting the temperature drop just below “frozen” will enhance the flavors. Garnish with mint, if desired.