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THE heatwave they tell me will be over today. We have seen record temperatures of over 31 degrees. The Met Office have even invented a new yellow extreme heat warning. Surely Frosty will have his serious hat on with a strict lecture on climate change?
No bugger that, it is far too hot. Let’s talk about ice cream.
I have dug out some interesting ice cream facts and history. First, ice cream is much older than I thought although its history isn’t really well documented.
The Roman Emperor Nero certainly ordered ice to be collected from the Apennine Mountains. In his kitchens chefs mixed the ice with honey and wine. Some experts claim the medieval traveller Marco Polo brought ice cream back from China.
Polo introduced these sorbet-style desserts to Italy, and Italy took ice cream to its heart and spread this chilled desert to the rest of the world. The Italian duchess Catherine de Medici introduced flavoured ices to France when she took her Italian chefs there, when she married the Duke of Orleans, King Henry II of France. What a wedding present.
A hundred years later, Charles I of England was so impressed by what he described as frozen snow that he offered his own ice-cream maker a lifetime pension to keep the formula secret so that ice cream could be the greedy king’s secret.
All this was before any kind of mechanical refrigeration. As usual this didn’t worry the rich buggers. Large estates in Britain always had an ice house, usually close to the lake. Some ice houses were natural caves but most were underground chambers, man-made and heavily insulated. They were built so solidly that many survive to this day.
Before global warming the lakes could be relied on to freeze every winter and the estate workers would be put to work cutting the ice into large blocks and storing them in the ice house. The average ice house would hold 3,000 tons of ice where amazingly it would stay frozen for a year.
Ice had started to be imported from the United States in the 1840s. Ice was also imported by ship from Scandinavia but imported ice was always expensive.
Carlo Gatti brought his first consignment of 400 tons of ice from Norway to London in 1857. Some of it was sold to customers for making the new fangled ice cream.
We all know – well everyone except Priti Patel knows – that we owe various groups of immigrants to Britain our heartfelt thanks for their contribution to what have become the best of our British cuisine. Curry arrived with immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Chinese food too has become a huge part of our national diet.
In the same way we owe the best of our ice cream to Italians. Italians came here fleeing the emerging fascism of Benito Mussolini who became the fascist dictator of Italy in 1922.
Some of these immigrants set up wonderful ice cream parlours to sell their delicious hand-made gelato. Many of these glorious Art Deco Italian ice cream palaces still exist, particularly in our seaside resorts.
When I was a kid, shop bought ice cream came in blocks. You could get vanilla, strawberry or a three coloured block that mimicked the Italian flag with stripes of green (pistachio) white (vanilla) and deep pink (strawberry). They were called Neopolitans.
It may have looked Italian but it was made mostly of chemicals in factories near my home in north-west London. Their names cashing in on the Italian reputation for ice cream.
For the real stuff you needed to find a real Italian ice cream parlour. We all have our favourites, usually the ones in the resorts we visited when young kids. Places like Alonzi’s Harbour Bar opened in Scarborough in 1945 and is still selling ice cream today.
First built in 1935, the Art Deco Nardini’s in Largs, North Ayrshire, serves up a dozen different ice cream sundaes – the biggest and best being the Clyde Coast Extravaganza, 12 scoops of ice cream and 16 toppings. Best share this one with at least one good friend.
Morelli’s in Broadstairs, Kent, still serves ice cream made daily to an Italian recipe dating back five generations. Giuseppe Morelli first came to England in 1907, selling ice cream from the back of his bicycle, before opening his Broadstairs parlour in 1932.
On the prom at Morecambe, near the statue of Eric Morecambe, you will find Brucciani’s ice-cream parlour. It first opened here in 1939, on the day before war broke out, says owner Bruno Brucciani.
Bruno is the third generation of his Italian emigre family to make ice cream here. Order a knickerbocker glory just as Shirley Bassey, Tommy Steele, Stan Laurel and Eric and Ernie did when they were performing at the Winter Gardens just up the road.
On the Mumbles, near Swansea in Wales, Joe Moruzzi’s uses Italian family recipes for the 30 flavours of ice cream he makes combining local Welsh milk and cream with exotic fruits, chocolate and other ingredients. His concoctions were soon winning prizes. He called his ice cream palour Verdi’s and it is still in the award-winning ice cream business.
I have a couple of my own favourite ice cream places. If I’m in London I try to make it to Marine Ices in Chalk Farm. Their malted milk and ice cream shakes are to die for – so don’t have too many. They ought to be good, the Macari family have been making them here since 1931.
As a child I spent many of my holidays in Herne Bay, Kent where I learnt to love Makcari’s Ice Cream Parlour. I hope to be going again later this summer.
One of my favourite lines of poetry from a popular song comes from Kirsty MacColl’s There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis. The line is “He’s a liar and I’m not sure about you.” So it didn’t surprise me when Dominic Cummings told us all that Prime Minister Johnson tells lots of lies and the sycophants around him make up exaggerated stories in praise of him too.
The same thing happened when the dreadful Maggie Thatcher came to power. She and her entourage put together a heavily embroidered life story for her bid for the leadership and one of the most amazing facts was they claimed she was a brilliant food chemist who had, on her own, invented Mr Whippy soft ice cream.
The facts don’t really support this exaggerated Tory claim. Thatcher did work as a food chemist in the 1940s where she was employed by J Lyons and Co. They were famous for their numerous tea shops and corner houses.
Lyons had done a deal with a giant American Company called Mister Softee to make soft ice cream in this country. Mr Softee was just one brand of soft ice cream being sold in America.
Soft ice cream contains a large percentage of air, meaning firms could sell free fresh air for the same price as ice cream. That would have been an idea Tory Mrs T could get behind but as Mr Whippy-style ice cream was widely sold in the US for some years beforehand she clearly didn’t invent anything.
Today you can buy your Mr Whippy or many other soft ice creams from a van. These vans with the loud musical announcements of their arrival will sell you something that will cool you down in this heatwave but it won’t be patch on the real thing. Even with a chocolate flake it isn’t really an ice cream.
Seek out, if you can, a traditional ice cream parlour, probably Italian where they still use fresh local milk and cream to make their gelato.
That’s the cool way to keep cool.
It might also help you to stop worrying about why in a heatwave we still have hailstones that dent car roofs and flash floods. However, that’s another story for another Friday’s Ramblings – perhaps when it’s a bit cooler.
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