Ice cream of the gods

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream.

The “Queen of Ices” was Agnes Bertha Marshall (1855-1905), an English cookery writer in the late Victorian period, who specialized in ice cream and other frozen desserts. Before domestic refrigeration had been perfected, when only the rich had ice cellars on their estates, her successful recipes increased public demand for ice imported from Norway.

While her near contemporary Mrs Beeton focused on household management, of which cookery was only a part, Agnes Marshall wrote four books: Ices Plain and Fancy: The Book of Ices (1885), Mrs. A. B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery (1888), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes (1891) and Fancy Ices (1894). She also gave public lectures on cooking and ran an agency for domestic staff. She was also granted a patent for a machine that could freeze a pint of ice cream in five minutes.

After her death in 1905, the rights to her books were sold to Mrs Beeton’s publisher and her name quickly faded from public memory. But in 1998 a biography was published titled Mrs Marshall: the Greatest Victorian Ice Cream Maker.

According to Paul Dickson’s The Great American Ice Cream Book (1972):

“The first substantial piece of writing on ice cream was an anonymous 84-page manuscript entitled L’Art de faire des Glaces which, through watermarks in the paper, has been dated ‘circa 1700’. It is a ‘how to’ work of some sophistication, giving detailed instructions for the preparation of such delights as apricot, violet, rose, chocolate, and caramel ice creams and water ices… In 1768 there appeared in Paris what is undoubtedly the most outlandish treatise on the subject ever to be published. Called The Art of Making Frozen Desserts, it is a 240-page offering by one M. Emy, who not only gives formulas for ‘food fit for the gods’, but offers theological and philosophical explanations for such phenomena as the freezing of water. The tone of the book is set by its frontispiece, which depicts a brace of angels delivering ice cream to earth from heaven.”

glaceIt is no surprise then to find that one of the finest ice creams is still locally produced in France at La Ferme du Bois Louvet near Saint-Jean-de-la-Lécqueraye in Normandy. Using milk from cows lovingly fed with local produce, and with the sole addition of homegrown fruit, 80 different flavours of ice cream and sorbet are made without bulking them up by adding air and without any chemical jiggery-pokery. Here’s what the owner of Louvet Wood Farm, Philippe Cocagne, has to say:

“All through the good weather, our cows crop the grass in our fields. Then we give them supplementary cereals (wheat, triticale) and forage (hay and alfalfa) grown on the farm. The milk is immediately made into cream, pasteurised according to the recipe. Then we make the ice cream straightaway at less than 10 degrees so as not to risk any bacteria. Our recipes blend whole milk, fresh cream, egg yolks, sugar and fruit. We add no colouring or preservatives or artificial smells. So the end product has immense taste and creaminess.”

Ice cream of the gods. Yet, as the American poet Shel Silverstein has observed, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip:

“Eighteen luscious, scrumptious flavors
Chocolate, lime and cherry,
Coffee, pumpkin, fudge banana
Caramel cream and boysenberry.
Rocky road and toasted almond,
Butterscotch, vanilla dip,
Butter brickle, apple ripple,
Coconut and espresso chip,
Brandy peach and lemon custard,
Each scoop lovely, smooth and round,
Tallest ice-cream cone in town,
Lying there (sniff) on the ground.”



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