Historic Ices with Ivan Day

Over the summer things have been very busy for us and it’s fair to say we’ve done a lot more in the way of foodie experiences than cooking anything exciting in the kitchen. Last year I visited the School of Artisan food to take part in an Artisan Chocolate course as a Christmas present. Since then I’ve had a keen interest in the place as it is wonderful to have such place in the midlands where there is a strong food heritage. I often bump in to Joe, their director, at various foodie events, usually when I have a mouth full of food. A few weeks ago Joe asked if I wanted to return to the school to take part in another one of their courses. It just so happened I was always planning to be out that way taking Hubs and his dad to a Beer & Cheese tasting day the school, so I decided on Historic Ices with Ivan Day, a food historian.

I have a passion for food history and anthropology and the geek in me can spend hours researching recipes and equipment from the kitchens of yesteryear. The trip to Lanhydrock’s Victorian kitchen a few weeks ago proves this. What it often shows is that in this time of sophisticated food technology sometimes the simplest techniques are the best. Ice cream doesn’t need to be complicated, trust me. A pint of strawberries, a pint of whipping cream a bit of sugar and lemon juice will make one of the best ice creams you have ever tasted.

Our house is over 220 years old and when I stand under the blackened beams in the kitchen I sometimes wonder what the kitchen has seen. The KitchenAid in the corner certainly would have been absent, but the large Mason Cash mixing bowl, jam funnel and pot of basic utensils won’t have changed much over the centuries.  While it’s unlikely the Victorian residents of this house made ice cream the stately home across the fields certainly would have.

The course stared with a interesting presentation from Ivan on the history and forgotten art of British ice creams. The first recorded ‘icy cream’ recipe was in 1664 by was Lady Ann Fanshawe. Initially ice cream was the preserve of the upper classes, by 1890 it had filtered down to the middle classes then by early-mid 20th century had become street food accessible to everyone. It was originally served in small glasses that were rinsed out between each customer; however this street ice was sometimes produced in rather unsanitary conditions and caused typhoid and scarlet fever outbreaks. This led to ice cream glasses being banned and replaced with the kind of cones we are now know.  It was unsurprising to find out that ice cream was banned during WWII due to its use of valuable ingredients that could be put to better use during rationing rather than some frivolous ice cream.

After the talk we headed to the kitchen to start on making our ices. Bergamot Water Ice, Strawberry Ice Cream, Iced Cabinet Pudding (a kind of frozen trifle with ginger ice cream), Punch à la romaine, along with a Sunrise Sorbetto. This was a very sweet  late 17th century ice cream containing candied pumpkin, milky cinnamon water, saba and pinenut comfits which we later served from a 18th century seau à glace.

The old techniques are simple. Agitate a fruity/creamy mixture against an ice-cold surface until frozen. Last year I taught a class of 6-11 year olds how to make ice cream with just a couple of freezer bags, ice, whole milk and a splash of vanilla extract which is not too dissimilar from the original method. We used traditional sorbetieres to make all the ices. As the ice creams were designed to be eaten fresh, no preservatives were needed.  The Victorians loved a good ice mould made from either pewter or copper. With a bit of food dye and a mould your ice could be turned into a lobster, cornucopia, stick of asparagus or deck of cards. We used lots of different moulds from Ivan’s extensive colleciton on the day. It culminated with us unmoulding and eating of some of our moulded creations.

It’s fair to say we were battling against some serious heat in the kitchen on the day. While we were trying to keep ices frozen as long at possible the UK was sweltering in +30°c temperatures. As soon as the ices had been unmoulded they were rapidly melting, this meant one thing, we had to eat them quick and I’m not complaining.

The Punch à la romaine (Roman frozen punch) was traditionally served as a thirst quencher at parties and oh my goodness, who would have thought lemon water ice, rum, italian meringue and champagne would taste so good. If I hadn’t been driving home I would have eaten lots more! I also adored the rich strawberry ice cream and will be making it again this weekend, albeit with a slightly more modern sorbetiere and a little assistance from my Kitchen Aid.


A big thanks to Joe for inviting me back to School of Artisan Food. I was a guest of School of Artisan on the course. The words and content of this post are my own. 

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