Making frozen pops in Atlanta

For many of us, summer memories include racing to finish a frozen pop before the sticky syrup drips off the stick and down onto arms and shirt fronts. Sometimes the treat was a fancy store-bought Popsicle and sometimes it was a homemade pop of juice frozen in little paper cups with wooden craft sticks inserted through foil-covered tops.

For Steven Carse, Atlanta's well-known King of Pops, the world of pops wasn't a thing until his anthropologist brother in Latin America introduced him the world of frozen fruit treats called paletas.

“Paletas are a big part of the culture there. When produce got too ripe for other uses, they’d turn it into these amazing pops. That made a lot of sense to me. Over a five-year period of going down to visit Ashley in Ecuador and Panama, I started thinking about this, casually at first and then a little more obsessively. When I got laid off my job at AIG, I thought I’d give making paletas a try,” said Carse.

Trying meant starting by “messing around” with flavors.

“A lot of our early pops had spice because I was heavily inspired by the Latin flavors I had enjoyed. Mango-chili is really popular and our spin was to use fresh peppers instead of powdered chili. Banana pudding is of my favorite desserts, and it made sense to me as a pop. So that was an early one, too. Our first pops were frozen in medicine cups. You could make just five or ten of each flavor, experimenting with sweeteners and with texture.”

Carse sold his first pops at the Irwin Street Market and then at a cart at North and North Highland Avenues. Now there are at least 40 King of Pops carts that work around metro Atlanta and another 40 in cities outside Atlanta. The production kitchen in Inman Park makes the pops for the metro Atlanta carts, and kitchens in the other cities make the pops that are sold in their communities. King of Pops is also sold in freezer cases and stand-alone glass-top coolers are many retail locations.

At any given time, a cart will hold seven flavors of pop. Four or five will be fruit flavors and two to three will be creamy, more indulgent flavors, like Chocolate Sea Salt. And they make sure to have a kid-friendly fruit option like Strawberry Lemonade or Blueberry Lemonade.

Along the way, Carse learned that just about anything can be turned into a pop. And that texture is important. “Differences in texture can be pleasant. I like big chunks and lots of chunks. When we make our Cookies n’ Cream pop we add as many cookies as we can fit in. For our Banana Pudding pop, we use banana slices and vanilla wafers and fill the whole mold up.”

And he notes that this is the kind of thing he can do at King of Pops because every pop is truly handmade. “There’s no way to do this at a bigger scale. There’s just no equipment to place an actual chunk of something into the mold.”

As for making your own homemade pops, Carse reminds us that freezing dulls flavors. “So if you’re adding spice, make the mixture slightly hotter than you think you want. Same thing with sweetener. Make the mixture a little sweeter than you think it should be.”

Finally, Carse says just about anything can be turned into a pop, and he encourages experimenting with your favorites just as he did when he was starting King of Pops.

Tips for making pops at home:

Kate Pedrick of The Cook’s Warehouse is also a pop fan. “Making your own pops is a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty of fruits and allows you to control the ingredients so that you know what you and your family are eating. Traditional pops can be made with less sugar because you can run the mold under water to help the Popsicle release. You can add herbs such as mint or basil to your pops for a sophisticated flavor and beautiful appearance. Sliced fruit is also beautiful and delicious.”

The Cook’s Warehouse carries an array of old-fashioned pop molds from Rocket Pops to Star Pops to Monster Pops. These are easy to use – just pour your mix into the molds, freeze and enjoy. “For a fun presentation, fill a festive bowl or bucket with ice, insert your Popsicles stick side-up and serve them at your next party. If you want to add alcohol to a Popsicle, don’t use very much because it won’t freeze properly.”

The newest addition to the world of pop making is the Zoku Quick Pop Maker. “This is a great option for pops because you get almost immediate gratification. It freezes ice pops in as little as 7 minutes and it can make up to 9 pops before refreezing the unit again. Keep the compact base in your freezer so you can enjoy pops at a moment’s notice.”

There’s one thing to remember when working with the Zoku Quick Pop Maker. “The right amount of sugar is very important. Without it, the pops won’t easily release from the Quick Pop Maker.”

If you don’t have pop molds or a special pop maker, you can make pops using small cups available at a party or grocery store and wooden sticks from a craft store. The King of Pops kitchen offers these instructions: Fill small cups with pop mix and place in freezer. Insert pop sticks one hour later when mixture is set but not completely frozen. Freeze overnight. Run warm water over outside of cups to remove pop from cups and enjoy.

Strawberry Basil Pop

King of Pops uses organic evaporated cane juice to sweeten its pops. They prefer this non-refined, unbleached sweetener since they find it has a richer flavor than plain granulated sugar. Either can be used in this recipe.

1 cup roughly chopped basil leaves

1 1/3 cups water

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 pound strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pinch of salt

5 whole large basil leaves

At least one day ahead, make basil simple syrup: In a small saucepan, add basil leaves and bruise with your fist or a muddler to release the oils. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/3 cup sugar. Cover and let basil syrup sit overnight. When ready to use, strain to remove basil. Can be made up to 1 week ahead and refrigerated.

When ready to make pops: In a medium bowl combine chopped strawberries, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and remaining two tablespoons sugar. Allow mixture to sit at least 30 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree strawberries, then add basil simple syrup, remaining tablespoon lemon juice and salt. Puree until smooth. Add basil leaves and blend just until leaves are roughly chopped and dispersed throughout the mix. Taste for sweetness and for lemon. Freeze according to instructions on your pop mold. Makes: 11 (3-ounce) pops

Per pop: 45 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 13 milligrams sodium.

Mango Lassi Pop

The quality of your mango makes all the difference in this recipe. For full mango flavor, you’ll need a very ripe, sweet mango. Select the ripest, most fragrant mango you can find. A large Tommy Atkins mango (the most commonly available variety in grocery stores) will yield about 2 cups of diced fruit.

Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices at the store, and you don’t need a whole bottle to make these pops. A whole bottle is likely to lose its fragrance long before you can use it up. Go to your favorite natural food store that sells bulk spices and pick up just the little bit that you need.

King of Pops uses organic evaporated cane juice to sweeten its pops. They prefer this non-refined, unbleached sweetener since they find it has a richer flavor than plain granulated sugar. Either can be used in this recipe.

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

2 cups diced ripe mango

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine milk and cream and heat until warm. Do not boil. Stir in sugar and salt and stir until sugar is dissolved.

In a medium bowl, combine milk mixture, mango, yogurt, lemon juice, cardamom and vanilla. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Freeze according to instructions on your pop mold. Makes: 9 (3-ounce) pops

Per pop: 156 calories (percent of calories from fat, 37), 3 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 7 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 26 milligrams cholesterol, 57 milligrams sodium.

Sun Burn

The King of Pops shop at Ponce City Market sells all your favorite flavors of pops, but they also sell poptails – a cocktail served with a little mini-pop. This pineapple-tequila cocktail is the newest addition to the summer menu. The cayenne in the pop adds the “burn.”

2 ounces blanco tequila

1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/4 ounce Honey Syrup (see recipe)


1 1/2 ounces tonic water

Lime-Chili Pop (see recipe)

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, pineapple juice, lime juice and honey syrup. Add ice and shake thoroughly. Strain and pour into a Collins glass over ice. Add tonic water and stir to combine. Add a Lime-Chili pop and serve. Serves: 1

Per poptail: 304 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium.

Honey Syrup

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup warm water

In a 1-cup measuring cup, combine honey and water and stir until honey is dissolved. May be made up to 2 weeks ahead and refrigerated. Makes: 3/4 cup

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 49 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

Lime-Chili Pop

If you don’t want to make this into a pop, you can freeze it as a large ice cube and use that in your poptail/cocktail.

1/4 cup Honey Syrup (see recipe)

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup water

1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

In a small bowl, stir all ingredients together. Freeze according to instructions on your pop mold. Makes: 2 (3-ounce) pops

Per pop: 54 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.