On a recent summer evening in Boulder, Colorado, I met with Gina Latimer and Sarah Robertson from Big Top Pops. This small local business makes gourmet popsicles and sells them at farmers markets, select stores, and restaurants in
Boulder. I wanted to learn more about this innovative company and the art of making ice pops, so I contacted the women to get the scoop.
When we met, Gina and Sarah were on their way to their industrial kitchen to don their aprons and start making ice pops—long into the night. As so many entrepreneurs do, the Big Top Pops ladies shoehorn their work in whenever they can, between full-time jobs and mom duty.
In Gina’s words, “Big Top Pops is a gourmet pop stand based out of the Boulder County Farmers Market, and inspired by it as well.” Longtime friends, college roommates at the University of Colorado (CU), Boulder, and fellow CU art majors, Sarah and Gina started Big Top Pops because they loved the beautiful produce and strong sense of community at the farmers market, and they wanted to be a part of it.
If you were ice pops, what flavors would you be?
Gina: “Mango habañero, a little spicy.”
Sarah: “Grapefruit rosemary. I love that one. It’s also really good dipped in vodka.”
What are your most popular pops?:
Sarah: “Lime basil, strawberry vanilla, and raspberry mint lemonade.”
When they started the business in 2013, Sarah and Gina were motivated by community, curiosity, and fun. But now—three summertime seasons later—they’re happily scrambling to keep up with demand for their unique product. They sell their pops at the farmers market and at a couple of stores and restaurants in Boulder; they also cater special events like weddings and birthdays. And now, a bit more often than before, they spend their time imagining all the fun ways they can grow their company.
Sarah and Gina are motivated by their tagline “simple goodness” and by a desire to build close partnerships with local farmers. Gina explains, “I think there’s something to be said for enjoying things that are just very simply and intentionally made. That’s exactly what we do. Most of our pops have four ingredients or less. We make them all with a lot of care.”
The women have teamed with numerous Colorado farms, including Oxford Gardens, which provides basil for Big Top’s lime basil pop; Aspen Moon, which hooked the women up with killer raspberries for their raspberry and cream pop; and Morton’s Organic Orchards, which supplies them with their decadent peaches and cherries. Gina and Sarah have also worked with Full Circle Farms, Cure Organic Farm, First Fruits, and Red Wagon, among others.
Rosemary Simple Syrup (yield 1 cup):
- 2/3 cup organic cane sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 ounce fresh rosemary, muddled
Over medium heat, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir frequently until sugar dissolves; then bring to a boil. Add rosemary and steep for two minutes. Discard the rosemary when finished.
Pops (yield 16 ounces, or about 6 two-and-a-half-ounce pops):
- 1 1/3 cup grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed and strained
- 2/3 cup simple syrup (recipe for 1 cup above), or to taste
Whisk grapefruit juice and simple syrup together. Pour into molds, add sticks, and freeze until solid.
I asked the savvy entrepreneurs to share some tips and tricks to help you make delicious ice pops at home.
1. Fixate on the Flavor
According to Sarah, many of Big Top’s pops are inspired by cocktails, jams, and pies. The women scour the Internet for interesting and unique flavor combinations. “You can find some really unusual flavors in a cocktail. You won’t necessarily take the exact ingredients, but you’ll find some strange spice or herb, something you’ve never thought of,” says Gina. For example, the company’s grapefruit rosemary pop is reminiscent of a Greyhound cocktail, which consists of grapefruit juice and vodka or gin. Most of Big Top’s pops are based on a simple syrup infused with herbs. Gina told me that “if you’re at home making pops, really spend some time on your simple syrup to get the infusion just right.” The ladies start all of their gourmet pops with super-fresh produce, but it’s the herb-infused simple syrup that gives the pops their complex flavors. Infusing the syrup with herbs helps ensure a much more uniform taste throughout the pops and allows you to make the flavor as strong or weak as you like it. Check out the recipe we’ve included to learn how to make your own herb-infused simple syrup.
2. Chunk Up or Smooth Out the Texture
As home-based pop makers, we may never get quite the same texture that Big Top does. That’s because most of us don’t own flash freezers. However, according to Gina and Sarah, if you do more of a fruit base than a juice base, you’ll get a better texture. At Big Top, Sarah and Gina make their pops from juice and puréed fruit. Sarah says, “A lot of our pops have a lemonade base, but then some of them are lemon and puréed fruits.” A self-proclaimed “texture freak,” Sarah notes that Big Top Pops do not include chunks—but that doesn’t mean you can’t add pulp or toothy bits of fresh produce to your home pops. Sarah and Gina may not be fans of chunk, but they are fans of garnish—a symbolic nod to their cocktail inspiration—and to their CU art degrees.
3. Don’t Be Afraid of Sweeteners
Big Top has experimented with bases for the simple syrup, including honey, agave, and maple syrup—which is wildly popular in the fall. However, they use organic cane sugar most often because it gives them the best results. According to the Big Top gals, higher sugar content produces less-icy pops. They acknowledge that sugar is a big concern for people, but Sarah reminds us that pops aren’t health food; they’re a dessert. Big Top doesn’t want to give its customers “sugar on a stick,” but “we do like to keep it tasty,” says Gina. “For us, the key to being healthy and having a healthy relationship with food is everything in moderation. So we’re not going to drastically restrict sugar in our lives, but we are going to be very conscious about how much sugar we put into something.” This is a much easier endeavor in the peak of summer when bushels of sweet, ripe fruit are available, enabling Big Top to offer more pop flavors without refined sugar.
4. Source Fresh Ingredients
Big Top gets many of its spices from Savory Spice Shop, with stores in 16 states and online. The ladies buy as much of their produce as possible from local farmers. When that’s not possible, they scour the stores for high-quality produce. Sarah suggests one great way to find high-quality, ripe, affordable fruit: buy “imperfects” from the farmers market, especially if you’re going to use them quickly. Ugly fruit still tastes great!
5. Get the Right Equipment
In its first year, Big Top used Norpro molds, which are also good for home use. The Norpro mold is very familiar to most of us, since popsicle makers have been using the form to create the rounded rectangle that we associate with popsicles. They’re also easy to find and allow you to use regular popsicle sticks as handles. Here’s a trick to save you some pain and suffering: to get the pops out of the mold, dip the molds in hot water for a moment, then pull out the pops.
6. Consult Reliable Resources
Sarah and Gina recommend reading People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop. Gina comments, “It’s like the bible of pops. It basically tells you everything you need to know.” People’s Pops, located in Brooklyn, is generous with its insider info and is credited with really helping the ice pop trend gain traction. Sarah says, “They were really the originators of this whole thing. For us, that was our inspiration. We had the idea and went straight to them.”
Author: Mara Rose
Editor: Joy Herbers
Photo: Christina Kiffney