Posted in History, Mrs Beeton, Museum, Vintage

Vintage Ice Cream

Vintage ice-cream cart. On display at Portsmouth City Museum.

Hoorah, Summer has finally arrived in Southern England.  Temperatures are reaching 30◦C and I find myself daydreaming of jelly, ice-cream and al fresco dining.

According to food historian Kate Colquhoun, in her brilliant book Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking (2007), ice cream or cream ice as it was originally known, first appeared in Britain in 1671:

….a single sweetened cream ice was served to Charles II at the Garter Feast of 1671 at St. George’s Hall – its first written record in Britain….The difficulty in Britain lay in finding ice at the height of summer.  James I had snow pits dug for storing ice cut from lakes and rivers in winter.  Two brick-lined pits were constructed at Greenwich in 1620 and another at Hampton Court five years later…Charles II, began to construct ice-houses in Upper St. James’s Park.  The Duchess of Lauderdale was one of the first to copy him, at Ham House, and by the time Celia Fiennes toured the country on horseback in 1702, she was able to note several ice-houses without surprise.


Cream-freezer illustration featured in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.

A bowl containing cream mixture is placed in a bucket and the gap between the bowl and bucket is filled-in with ice.  Salt is added to the ice and the cream mixture in the bowl begins to freeze. When salt melts ice it draws heat away from anything it touches, therefore the temperature reduces around the bowl and the cream mixture freezes.

Stork fountain (1872) made by Minton & Company. Made of pottery and painted with majolica opaque glaze colour. The fountain was made for the Royal Dairy in Windsor Great Park. Jets of cold water from the fountain cooled the air in days before refrigeration was available. On display at Portsmouth City Museum.

The Victorians, including Queen Victoria, loved ice-cream.  Writing in her Journal at Windsor Castle, on Sunday 24th November 1839, she mentions the economic impact to the Royal household of creating an ice cellar: ‘ …as the expense of getting ice was so enormous, and that the Queen Dowager got all hers from Hampton Court.’ (p. 81, Lord Esher’s typescript, for original CLICK HERE)

Food historian extraordinaire, Ivan Day, has a superb website, www.historicfood.coma must-read for all devotees of food history.  It is currently my favourite site, well-written, nicely illustrated and easy to navigate around.  The recipes section is a particular favourite of mine, do have a look at the section on ‘Georgian Ices’, it contains a history of ice-cream and some recipes to try (CLICK HERE). Ivan runs a wide range of historic cookery courses too, including ‘Dairy and Ices’ which includes a lesson on how to make moulded ices Victorian style.

Illustration showing the vast range of ice-cream and jelly moulds available in Edwardian and Victorian times. Illustration from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition).

My Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition) has a large number of ‘Recipes for Ices’. Mrs B also includes a substantial instructions on the equipment and process involved in making ice-cream.  Here are some extracts:

Freezing Machines

Recent years have introduced a variety of machines for making ices, but the ordinary old-fashioned pewter freezing pot still holds its own, and deservedly so, for it is reliable and satisfactory in every way, although its use entails a little more labour on the operator, and the process is slower than with the newly invented machines. Nearly all the machines in present use are supplied with an outer compartment constructed to hold the ice and salt, and an inner receptacle in which the mixture to be frozen is placed, and revolved by means of a handle. (p.988)

Freezing Mixture

The materials usually employed for this purpose are ice and coarse salt, or freezing salt, the correct proportion being 1lb of salt to 7 or 8lb of ice.  More salt than this is often added with a view to making the mixture freeze more quickly, which it does for a short time, but the large proportion of salt causes the ice to speedily melt, and the freezing operation comes to a standstill unless the ice is frequently renewed.  The ice tub or outer compartment of the freezing machine must be filled with alternate layers of crushed ice and salt.  A good layer of ice at the bottom of the tub enables the freezing pot to turn more easily and more quickly than if it were placed on the bare wood. (p.988)

Preparation of Ices

The mixture to be frozen is placed in the freezing machine, and the lid firmly secured.  When the vessel has been quickly turned for a short time, a thin coating of ice will have formed on the sides.  This must be scraped down with the spatula, and well mixed with the liquid contents, and as soon as another layer has formed it must be dealt with in the same manner.  This, and the turning, is continued until the mixture acquires a thick creamy consistency, when it is ready for moulding.  To ensure success the following rules should be observed:

  1. Avoid putting warm mixtures into the freezing pot;
  2. Add sweetening ingredients with discretion;
  3. Avoid, as much as possible, the use of tin and copper utensils;
  4. Carefully wipe the lid of the freezer before raising it, so as to prevent any salt getting into the mixture. (p.989)

Moulding Ices

The ice, in the semi-solid condition in which it is taken from the freezing machine, is put into dry moulds, and well shaken and pressed down in the shape of them.  If there is the least doubt about the lid fitting perfectly, it is better to seal the opening with a layer of lard, so as to effectually exclude the salt and ice.  In any case the mould should be wrapped in 2 or 3 folds of kitchen paper when the freezing has to be completed in a pail.  1 part of salt should be added to 3 parts of ice, and the quantity must be sufficient to completely surround the mould.  It should be kept covered with ice and salt for 3 or 4 hours, when it will be ready to unmould.  When a charged ice cave is available, the ice is simply moulded, placed in the cave, and kept there until sufficiently frozen. (p. 989)

Unmoulding Ices

Ices should be kept in the moulds, buried in ice, until required.  When ready to serve, remove the paper and the lard when it has been used, dip the mould into cold water, and turn the ice on to a dish in the same ways as a jelly or cream. (p. 989)

 Banana Cream Ice

Ingredients: 1 1/4 pints of custard, 1/4 of a pint of cream, 6 bananas, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice, 1 tablespoonful of Curaçoa or brandy.

Method: Pass the bananas through a fine hair sieve.  Prepare the custard as directed, and whip the cream stiffly.  When the custard is sufficiently cool, add the banana pulp, lemon-juice and Curaçoa, stir the cream in lightly, and freeze.

Biscuit Cream Ice

Ingredients: Ice-cream, Savoy biscuits.

Method: Line a plain ice mould with Savoy biscuits, put in the frozen cream ice, cover, and pack in ice until required.

Cherry Cream Ice

Ingredients: 1 pint of custard, 3/4 lb of ripe cherries, 2 ozs of castor sugar, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoonful of Kirschwasser or other liquer, carmine (or in the 21st century red food colouring!).

Method: Stone the fruit, crack the stones, take out the kernels, place both cherries and kernels in a basin, add the sugar, lemon-juice, Kirschwasser, cover, and let the preparation stand for 1/2 an hour.  Then pour all into a copper stewpan, add 1/2 a pint of water, cook until the cherries are tender and rub through a fine sieve.  Add the prepared custard and a few drops of carmine, and freeze.

Iced Tutti-Frutti

Ingredients: 1 oz of pistachios, blanched and shredded, 1 oz of glacé cherries, 1oz of glacé apricots, 1/2 an oz of mixed candied peel, all cut into small dice, 1/2 a pint of cream stiffly whipped, 1/2 a gill of Maraschino, 2 whites of eggs stiffly whipped, vanilla essence, 8 ozs of sugar, 5 yolks of eggs, 1 pint of milk.

Method: Boil the milk, add the yolks of eggs and sugar, stir and cook very gently for a few minutes, then strain and, when cold, add vanilla essence to taste.  Partially freeze, add the whites of eggs, cream, nuts and fruit, and when the freezing process is nearly completed, put in the Maraschino.

Syrup for Water Ices

Ingredients: 2 lbs of loaf sugar, 1 pint of water.

Method: Put the sugar and water into a copper sugar-boiler or stewpan; when dissolved place over a clear fire, and boil until a syrup is formed, taking care to remove the scum as it rises.  If a saccharometer is available for testing the heat of the syrup, it should be boiled until it registers 220◦F.

Grape sorbet illustration from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition).

Melon Water Ice

Ingredients: 1 medium-sized ripe melon, 4 ozs of sugar, the juice of 2 oranges, the juice of 2 lemons, 1 wineglassful of Maraschino, 1 quart of water.

Method: Peel and slice the melon, simmer for 10 minutes with the water and sugar, and rub through a fine hair sieve.  When cool, add the strained orange and lemon-juice, the Maraschino, and, if necessary, a little more sugar.  Freeze.

Red Currant Water Ice

Ingredients: 1lb of red currants, 1/2 a lb of raspberries, 1 quart of syrup, the juice of 1 lemon.

Method: Pick the fruit and rub it through a hair sieve.  Prepare the syrup according to the recipe, pour it over the fruit pulp, add the strained lemon-juice, and when cold freeze.

Tangerine Water Ice

Ingredients: 6 tangerines, 2 oranges, 2 lemons, 4 ozs of loaf sugar, 1 pint of syrup.

Method: Rub the sugar on the rind of the tangerines to extract some of the flavour.  Place the sugar in a saucepan, add the thin rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon, 1/4 pint of cold water, and boil the mixture for 10 minutes.  Skim if necessary, add the juice of the oranges and lemons, and the syrup, boil up, then strain, and, when cold, freeze.

Illustration of an ice pudding, from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition).

Iced Pudding

Ingredients: 1 1/2 pints of vanilla custard, 2 ozs of crystallized apricots shredded,    2 ozs of glacé cherries shredded, 1 pint of cream, an assortment of crystallized fruit.

Method: Partially freeze the custard, and add the shredded fruit, and the cream stiffly whipped.  Continue the freezing till of right consistency, fill up a fruit shaped mould, and keep the remainder of the mixture in a frozen condition.  When ready, unmould, and arrange the unmoulded portion of the ice mixture and assorted fruit on top.

China version of an ice pudding. On display in the Victorian kitchen at Tudor House and Garden, Southampton, Hampshire.

Neapolitan Ice

Ingredients: 1/4 of a pint of strawberry or raspberry pulp, 1/2 an oz of grated chocolate, 3 yolks of eggs, 1 1/2 pints of milk, 1/2 a pint of cream, 3 ozs of castor sugar, 1/2 a teaspoonful of vanilla essence, carmine or cochineal (use red food colouring in the 21st century!).

Method: Cream the yolks of eggs and 3 ozs of castor sugar well together.  Add the rest of the sugar to the milk, and when boiling pour on to the yolks of eggs and sugar, stirring vigorously meanwhile.  Replace in the stewpan, and stir by the side of the fire until the mixture thickens, then strain.  Dissolve the chocolate in 1 tablespoonful of water, mix wi it 1/3 of the custard, and let it cool.  Mix the fruit pulp with half the remaining custard, and if necessary add a few drops of carmine.  To the other third of the custard add the vanilla essence.  Whip the cream slightly, divide it into 3 equal portions, and add 1 to each preparation.  Freeze separately, then pack in layers in a Neopolitan ice-box, or, failing this, a mould best suited to the purpose. Cover close, and pack in salt and ice for about 2 hours.  Serve cut across in slices.

Neapolitan ices illustration from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition).

Further Reading

  • Icehouses by Tim Buxbaum (2008), published by Shire Library (278)
  • Ice Cream: History by Ivan Day (2011), published by Shire Library (614).
  • Taste: The Story of Britain Through it Cooking by Kate Coquhoun (2008), published by Bloomsbury PLC.

    A selection of vintage ice-cream bowls, glasses and dishes from Verrecchia’s cafe that was located in Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, Hampshire. Verrecchia’s opened in 1933 and traded until 1970. Opened by Augusto Verrecchia and his father on 6th July 1933. No. 8 is for Knickerbocker glory; no 9 is for parfait; no. 10 is an ice-cream dish commissioned for Verrecchia’s in the 1930s and no. 11 is for sundaes. On display at Portsmouth City Museum.

From Verrecchia’s, Portsmouth. On display at Portsmouth City Museum.