Ice Cream

Anne here, typing this with the heater going and wearing fingerless gloves. Yes, it’s winter downunder, but despite the temperature outside, today I’m talking about ice-cream. I’m sure all you in the northern hemisphere who are struggling with heat will appreciate it.

Summer or winter, ice-cream is a weakness of mine. I can easily turn down offers of all kinds of desserts and cakes, but not ice-cream. However, much as I love it, I hardly ever buy it, because I can’t resist it and if it sits in the fridge it calls to me and, strangely, vanishes. So these days I go out for ice-cream. In fact I patronize a certain Italian restaurant mainly because of their delicious house-made mango ice-cream.

In the regency, ice-cream was a real treat, well out of reach for most people, and those who could afford it often went out to eat it as well.  We’ve all read in Regencies, people eating ices at Gunters. It was a treat. But wealthy people also could have their cooks make ice-cream desserts, using a range of special equipment. There is a fabulous video here of English food historian Ivan Day, talking about historic desserts, and showing exactly how ice cream and ices were made in the past and shares and demonstrates a couple of recipes. (The images above and below are of ices made by Ivan Day and are used with permission.)

The video is about 20 minutes long, but if you don’t have time, he demonstrates the making of ice-cream starting around the 8.30 mark. But honestly, it’s well worth watching the whole video. Ivan Day has also written an excellent book about the history of ice-cream.

It was originally called iced cream, or simply “ices”,  but over time has metamorphosed into ice-cream, in much the same way as iced tea has become ice-tea in many places.

In the Regency era, the manufacture of ice by mechanical means had not yet been discovered, so ice had to be harvested in winter, and stored through the warmer months in ice-houses — well insulated stone and earth buildings such as the photo here.

Ice houses were built of stone or brick and were dug down into the earth to help keep the temperature down. The ice (or sometimes hard-packed snow) was also packed in thick layers of straw and earth  to insulate it and prevent it from melting.

Some ice was even imported from Norway and other far flung cold places. “In 1822, following a very mild winter, pioneering ice-merchant and confectioner William Leftwich chartered a vessel to make the 2000km round trip from Great Yarmouth to Norway to collect 300 tonnes of ice harvested from crystal-clear frozen lakes.
It’s an example of “the extraordinary the lengths gone to at this time to serve up luxury fashionable frozen treats and furnish food traders and retailers with ice”. The venture was not without risk: previous imports had been lost at sea, or melted whilst baffled customs officials dithered over how to tax such novel cargo. Luckily, in Leftwich’s case a decision was made in time for the ice to be transported along the Regent’s Canal, and for Leftwich to turn a handsome profit.”  (from thehistoryblog.)

There are many still intact ice-houses scattered throughout the UK (and no doubt Europe and many other places.) In 2018 one was even unearthed by archaeologists in central London, near Regent’s park. It’s apparently in amazingly good condition, despite the massive bombing of the area in WW2 and the subsequent rebuilding.- of the district.

One of the very popular and fashionable sources of icecream in London was The Pot and Pineapple, operated by an Italian, Domenico Negri, based in Berkley Square from about 1765. After he died, his English wife continued to run it, and when she died, her nephew (Gunter) took over and it became Gunters, but still operating, and very successfully, under the sign of the pineapple — and of course, it is very well known to readers of Regencies.

When I was first researching Regency-era ice-creams for a book I was writing (The Perfect Waltz) I discovered all kinds of flavors that surprised me — parmesan for instance, which we associate more with Italian savory dishes. In the story, Sebastian, the hero, and his best friend Giles (who has the secondary romance in the story) take the young ladies to Gunters for their first ever ice-cream.

     “It’s just there, near the corner of the square.” Giles pointed. “The place with the sign of the pineapple. You find a nice shady spot for the ladies, ‘Bastian, and I’ll send a waiter over to you.”
    “What? Don’t we go into the shop?”
    Giles shook his head. “You can, of course, but on a glorious day such as this, everyone eats their ices out of doors, in the shade. Don’t worry, the waiters will bring everything you need out to you.” He trotted off.
    They found a place to park the barouche under some cool, wide maple trees and soon saw that, as Giles said, many people were eating their ices and cakes out of doors. Ladies sat in their carriages, spooning up creamy concoctions with long-handled Italianate spoons. Elegant gentlemen idled by the park railings, chatting to the ladies as they ate their ices.
    “Excellent spot,” Giles declared as he strode up. His horse was hitched to a post a dozen yards away. A waiter hurried up behind him. “Now, what does everyone want? What flavor ice?”
    Sebastian looked blank. So did the girls. Lady Elinore said nothing. Finally Cassie said, “I’ve never had an ice, so I don’t know what flavor they are.”
    “Never had an ice?” Giles exclaimed in mock horror. “‘Bastian, they’ve been in London for —how many days?—and they still haven’t eaten an ice!”
    “I’ve never had one either,” Sebastian admitted.
    Giles turned to Lady Elinore, “Lady Elinore, come, it is our duty as Londoners to rectify this shocking situation. What flavors do you think the young ladies would like?”
    Lady Elinore said coldly, “I have no idea, Mr. Bemerton. I have never eaten an ice either. Nor do I intend to. My mother did not approve of food which comes in the extremes of hot or cold. An ice is not Rational food.”
    “It certainly isn’t,” Giles agreed fervently. “It’s food for the gods! So it’s the first time for everyone, then–excellent! Waiter, what flavors do you have?”
    The waiter rattled off a list. Sebastian didn’t catch them all: there were water ices or cream ices in flavors which included strawberry, barberry, pistachio nut, bergamot, royal cream, chocolate cream, burnt filbert cream, parmesan cream, jasmine, white coffee, tea, pineapple, elder-flavored muscadine and lemon water as well as some in French that he couldn’t catch.

Anne again: “Burnt” icecream, which was a popular flavor, was actually what we’d call toffee ice-cream today — the “burnt” bits were sugar cooked until brown, which is toffee. Filberts are hazelnuts, so possibly they were toasted, or maybe mixed with toffee particles. Bergamot is a herb, and would be familiar to some of the tea drinkers among us as the distinctive flavor in Earl Grey tea. Jasmine is more often used in tea as well. Other flower flavors used included violets, orange flowers, roses, and elder flowers. Muscadines are grapes, but there is some question as to whether the ice-cream thus named was more elder flower flavored or grape flavored.

Back to our story:

    There were so many to choose from, nobody could decide, so Giles took the initiative. “Very well, for the ladies, I recommend a strawberry ice–”
    “I’d prefer a pistachio nut ice, please,” Cassie said, ever contrary.
    “Excellent! So, waiter, two strawberry ices, one pistachio nut ice and how about frozen orange punch, for us, Bastian—it’s laced with rum.”
    Sebastian nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
    “If you are ordering that extra strawberry ice for me, I won’t eat it,” Lady Elinore declared. “As I said, an ice is not Rational food.”
    Giles looked at her thoughtfully. Under his scrutiny, Lady Elinore’s nose raised another inch in the air.
    “I’m sorry, do you eat brown bread, Lady Elinore?” he said in a humble voice. “I can have the waiter bring you brown bread.”
    “I do,” she admitted, reluctantly mollified.
    Giles said something to the waiter who nodded and ran off, dodging the traffic as he crossed the busy street to Gunter’s.
    “That’s all sorted then,” said Giles and climbed into the open-topped carriage. He squeezed between Dorie and Cassie, opposite Lady Elinore, who fastidiously tucked her knees as far away as possible to prevent them touching.        
     . . . . snip . . . . .
    The waiter arrived, his tray laden with glass dishes brimming with colorful creamy confections. Giles distributed napkins then handed the ices out; a creamy pink one for Dorie, a pale green one with flecks for Cassie, two pale orange mounds of shaved ice crystals for himself and Sebastian. And one creamy confection the color of toasted biscuits.
    Lady Elinore looked down her nose at it. “For whom is that intended?”
    Giles grinned. “You said you’d eat brown bread. This is brown bread ice cream.” He dug the long handled spoon into the confection, lifting a mouthful temptingly. “Doesn’t it look delicious?”
    Lady Elinore primmed up her small plain face. “No! I agreed to eat bread, not—mmmphh!”
    Sebastian should have been cross with his friend, but the expression on Lady Elinore’s face surprised a chuckle out of him. The girls, too, giggled.
    With dignity, Lady Elinore swallowed the spoonful of brown bread ice-cream which Giles had so rudely popped into her mouth while she was talking. As she swallowed an extraordinary expression passed over her face.
    “Told you you’d like it,” said Giles, smugly.
    “It is not Rational food,” Lady Elinore said feebly, eyeing the bowl in Giles’s hand. She licked her lips.
     “Might as well eat it now,” Giles said, reasonably. “Only go to waste. A terrible sin, to waste good food.” He leaned forward and placed the bowl in Lady Elinore’s hands.

Anne again: And of course she ate it down to the last drop. (I hope you’ll forgive this detour into an old book of mine, but I couldn’t resist.)

So, do you enjoy ice-cream? Have a favorite flavor?  Do you make your own?
Which of the regency ice-cream flavors would you choose to try?

32 thoughts on “Ice Cream”

  1. What an interesting post. I identify with your second paragraph. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but ice cream (and cheesecake) are two things I can’t keep around the house because they would make a sinner of me.

    I’m old enough to remember the ice man who would deliver big blocks of ice to our house. We put those blocks of ice into the “icebox” to keep the food cold. I still slip occasionally and call my fridge the icebox (smile). When I do the kids look at me with a blank look on their faces.

    Loved this post.

    • Thanks, Mary. I forgot to put the link to the video in and have just rectified that.

      When I was little and we lived out in the countryside without electricity, we had an actual icebox. No doubt quite a few country people did before electricity came to them. The ice-man would come, and pick up a huge slab of ice, using metal grippers (because otherwise it would be too cold and slippery) carry it inside and slide it into the icebox. I’m not sure how long it lasted — maybe a week. But funnily enough we never called it the icebox— or maybe I just don’t remember. But ever afterward, even when we moved into town and got a fridge, Mum was fanatical about keeping the door closed.
      I feel a bit lucky that we lived like that, even though I was small when we moved into town, because it gives me an insight about how people lived befora all the mod cons.

  2. Thanks for a most interesting and fun post, Anne! I loved your “detour” into one of your old books, really brought Gunter’s to life! I have always been surprised at how the “ice houses were able to keep the ice frozen in the hot weather.
    It is interesting how what we call things filters down because even in the 1960’s when i was growing up we still called a refrigerator “the icebox”!
    I adore ice cream and look forward to it every summer(especially now that the heat arrived so early in the northeastern US). My favorite flavor is chocolate(as I am a devoted chocohalic!) but i also like black raspberry and mocha and coffee. There is also a wonderful concoction called “moosetracks” which is a combination or vanilla ice cream, fudge, marshmallow, and chocolate chunks, yummy but sinful! 😉😊🍨

    • Thank you, Jane. Yes it was extraordinary how long the ice could last. They knew about insulation, didn’t they?
      BTW I forgot to put the link in to the video I mentioned. Here it is.
      Well worth watching.
      My favorite icecream is also chocolate, and when I go to the restaurant that makes the beautiful mango icecream, it comes with two scoops, and I always get one of chocolate and one of mango. It’s the perfect combo. Moosetracks sounds amazing, but might be a bit too sweet for me.

  3. Hi Anne, thanks for this fun post and excerpt!

    I enjoy gelato, Talenti is the brand, and my favorite is Coffee with Chocolate Chips. I also like Magnum Ice Cream Bars, vanilla covered with Belgian chocolate and almonds.

    Ice cream sandwiches is another favorite. The Softee Ice Cream truck is still around, and I like vanilla covered with chocolate sprinkles in a cone. They also have a really good ice cream sundae.

    Dulce de leche in Haagen Dazs ice cream is another favorite of mine.

    Elder-flavored muscadine is a flavor I would have tried in the Regency era.

    • Thanks Patricia. I’m sorry, I forgot to put the link in to the video I mentioned. Here it is.
      Well worth watching.
      I also love gelato, mostly I choose lemon though. Your other flavors might tempt me to try something different though. Oh, ice-cream sandwiches. I haven’t had one of those since I was a small girl. I don’t think they’re sold here now. But there was a real ritual in eating them, wasn’t there. And watching the icecream filling get thinner and thinner as you licked it. The challenge was to keep the wafers intact for as long as possible. Thanks for the memory.

  4. I enjoyed your post Anne. The sculptured ices are beautiful. I enjoy coffee and chocolate flavored ice-cream and have fond memories of a coffee brandy ice-cream. Every other year we have an ice harvesting festival on a local lake that the area Amish men do. We also have a large local round ice house here that can be toured .

    • Thanks, Carolyn. How amazing that ice-harvesting still goes on. Those Amish are resourceful, aren’t they? I also read somewhere that in some places (maybe Chile?) ice collected from glaciers is in huge demand to have in cocktails, so it still happens there, too.

      Those sculptured ices are wonderful, aren’t they? If you watch the video, he shows you exactly how they’re made. It’s fascinating. (Sorry I forgot to include the link last night when I uploaded my post. Here it is:

  5. So perfectly timed for the Northern Hemisphere, Anne! Ice cream is suitable for all seasons, but is especially special during a summer heat wave. Coffee ice cream is the house standard here, but I have a weakness for mango ices. Loved the excerpt from your book and the lady’s discovery of non-Rational food!

    • Thanks, Mary Jo. I don’t think I’ve ever had coffee icecream, but that’s because I can’t usually go past chocolate. And the mango ice cream my restaurant makes is delicious. I haven’t seen any commercial ones, but then again, I try to avoid that part of the supermarket for fear of being tempted.
      I forgot to link to Ivan Day’s video, but if you have time, it’s fascinating.

    • Coffee is also my favorite ice cream flavor! Although I don’t drink coffee because the only way I like it is with a lot of creamer and sugar. My second favorite is cookies and cream.

  6. So even with the heater on and wearing mittens I eat ice cream! Yes I keep a huge tub of vanilla in the house at all times, and never pass up a chance to eat it out either! I loved reading about ice houses and have seen several pioneer models at outdoor museums before. Talk about a renewable resource hehe. I must admit though, the lengths of sailing just to bring ice to the rich, I hope the waiters and cooks were tipped well!

    • I’m in my fingerless gloves as we speak, Jenni. I mainly only get vanilla ice-cream if I have a dish it will complement, or fruit like berries to go with it.
      I must see if the historical recreation sites we have here have any ice-cream making equipment. I suspect that for colonial Australians icecream would have been a very rare luxury indeed — where would they get the ice? We have snow in the mountains, but only in winter, and we have to drive a few hours to see it.
      BTW Last night when I posted the blog, I forgot to pop in the link to Ivan Day’s wonderful video. Here it is:

  7. Thanks for this post, Ms. Gracie! I’m currently suffering through an oppressive summer in North Texas that will go on until the end of September. I eat 1 14 oz. container of ice cream every week from mid May until October. I ‘could’ eat a lot more, but I ration it!

    • Oh Susan, that heat sounds ghastly. I hope your air-con is sturdy and the electricity supply doesn’t falter under the demand. Rationing ice-cream? Is that even possible? LOL Stay cool, and thanks for dropping by.

  8. I tried to avoid sugar so I very rarely have ice cream anymore period the ones made with sugar substitutes just don’t do it for me. But in the days when I ate ice cream whenever I could, My favorite flavor was in Neapolitan because you got vanilla, strawberry and chocolate all in the same slice. When I was a kid it was a treat to go to the nearest Thrifty Drug Store and get one of their ice cream cones which were a dime each at the time. Thrifty Drugs still exists as Rite Aid, but they still have the Thrifty ice cream counter in most of their stores, and though the ice cream is quite a bit more costly now it still reminds me of old times.

    • Janice, it needs to be just right, doesn’t it? On the way home tonight I stopped off at a supermarket I don’t usually patronized and I saw in the ice-cream section (which I came across by accident — truly it was — and I saw they had mango gelato. I looked at it for a while and then decided the gelato wouldn’t be quite right for the taste I was craving. So I bought some fruit instead.
      I remember when we moved into town when I was small, and for the first time ever I saw an ice-cream van. It stopped outside our house, and its tinkly little tune drew me out. And ugh the magic of a cone filled with a small; mountain of vanilla ice-cream, topped with a shell of chocolate – liquid chocolate that turned hard. Magic!

      • “So I bought some fruit instead.” (Apparently Aus. English is different from
        U.S. English, because I did not understand this.)

      • When I was a kid we still had the Good Humor man. The trucks had regular routes and would hit your street about the same time every day. For a dime you could get achocolate coated ice cream on a stick, or a sandwich; for (I think it was) 50 cents you could buy a quart of the stuff. We kids were out there with our dimes at every opportunity. I remember the drivers as always smiling; not a grouch among them. And the ice cream had a smoothness to it that I still remember.

  9. Thank you for this fun and informative post, Anne. I enjoyed learning a bit more about Gunter’s seeing those molded ices, and revisiting your excerpt!

    I am VERY fond of ice cream and like many flavors including chocolate, coffee, chocolate chip, chocolate raspberry, and banana to name a few. Tonight I enjoyed a bowl of Rocky Road which is chocolate ice cream mixed with small marshmallows, and almond bits.

    • Thanks, Kareni, glad you enjoyed it. That video with Ivan Day was so interesting, and I wondered whether those metal moulds would ever be duplicated for modern ice-cream making. A friend of mine off a rocky road fanatic and would go ape for that ice-cream. I think you have more flavors in the US than we have here.

    • Thanks for that link, Karin. Fascinating piece of history, and wow, how many people would have been put out of work by the invention of refrigerators. They would have been mostly manual workers, too, and it would have been hard for them to find a job in the new manufacturing area.

  10. I love ice cream When I was a child there was a place where I could buy Pistachio ice cream. I like Chocolate raspberry, Moose tracks, and many other flavors. I read where they made a sort of icecream in India, and of course, made ices in Italy. Always wondered how they did that. If I remember the details , they used a pudding bag, which was wet and hung it out side and had someone continuously fanning it. Don’t know if that was correct or not. I tried making ice cream a couple of times when we had an ice cream maker– manual operation. Made the boys work off some energy that way. Don’t know what happened to that ice cream maker.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I’m sorry your pistachio ice-cream source is no longer there. And clearly moose tracks is a flavor I need to try if I’m ever in the US again.
      Re the Indian dish you’re thinking of, maybe it’s kulfi. I’ve eaten it numerous times.
      I’ve never had an ice-cream maker — it’s too dangerous for me to have one in the house.

  11. The dish I am thinking of was created before freezers were available to the White Mughals. Maybe I was mistaken.

    • I believe I’ve read of ice being brought down into Northern India in the Mughal era. I haven’t delved into transportation in that era, but river transit might be rapid enough.

  12. Thank you for this! I love reading of excursions to Gunter’s – it sounds such an elegant and lovely thing.
    I love ice cream, and it’s my go to when I have a bad headache.
    I love Italian gelato and the richest ice cream. Also mango or pistachio kulfi.
    For ice cream, sorbet, and gelato, I enjoy pineapple, dark chocolate, lemon, most fruit flavours. Rich vanilla.
    Of the list in your excerpt, I would choose pineapple or chocolate first. Pistachio, parmesan, lemon, and burnt on subsequent visits.
    A suitor would win at leadt my gratitude and possibly my heart by conveying me in his high perch phaeton to a shady spot for ices.

    • Thanks, Marsha. I love that image of eating ice-cream in a high perch phaeton under the shade of a tree. As for the many different varieties, while they all sound tempting, I invariably go for chocolate. Or chocolate with some other flavor. Yesterday I met a friend for lunch and opposite was an ice-cream shop, so I checked out all the labels. And resisted. Really, what I’d like would be a tasting serve, with a number of different flavors to taste and compare.


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