We do tend to forget, in an age when every food-stuff one could possibly desire is readily available all year round, how special seasonal food was to people in the past. We can buy strawberries all year round, Jane Austen could not.
And unless she knew someone rich enough to have an ice house she would not have been able to eat ice cream in the country at any time of her year. In the larger towns- York and London for example- it was available from smart confectioners shops (which were much more like the ice cream parlours of today) such as Negri’s which operated from the Sign of the Pineapple in Berkeley Square, London.
Jane Austen’s rich brother, Edward had an ice house at his home Godmersham in Kent
It was protected by a planting of trees from the heat of the sun, and was sunken into the ground,wherein winter ice from the lakes and ponds on the estate was taken by men and boys using horse drawn carts. The ice was kept safe in the ice house so that it could be used for culinary purposes( for ices,ice creams and Piece Montees but not for the preservation of food by freezing at this point in history).When the last of it finally melted in the late summer heats, no more ice cream, for there would be no more ice till the next winter freeze …
Jane Austen certainly ate ices at Godmersham. In a letter written to her sister Cassandra dated July 1st, 1808 she wrote about forgetting the cares of their normal homely domestic parsimony ( “The Orange Wine will need our care soon”) and instead about enjoying a rich man’s more sophisticated pleasures:
But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.
I learnt to make ice cream without a freezer in the Georgian fashion a few years ago at a course on Georgian Food run by Ivan Day of Historic Foods. I thought you might be interested to see the process.
Here is William Jarrin’s recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream from his book The Italian Confectioner (1826) (By the way, do click on it and the other pictures in this post to enlarge them and see the detail)
William Jarrin arrived from Italy via France to work at Gunther’s in Berkeley Square (the successor to Negri’s business) in 1817.
This is his portrait from my copy of the 3rd edition of his book The Italian Confectioner.Mr Jarrin had a sad end to his life, and died as a bankrupt, but he did have a thriving busines with premises at 123 New Bond Street in 1822. More of Mr Gunter later …….You will have no doubt noticed that Jarrin’s recipe is rather silent as to how you actually are to freeze the strawberry cream mixture.
The answer is provided by Mrs Rundell’s concise explaination of the process, this extract being taken from her book, A New System Of Domestic Cookery,which has recently been published as a facsimile edition by Persephone Books;
The salt added to the powdered ice helps take the temperature to well below freezing. What follows are some photographs of the whole process taken whilst I attended the course.
Here is my friend, Katherine Cahill, author of Mrs Delaney’s Menus Medicine and Manners just before she began her hard work on our strawberry ice cream. After you have made your strawberry and cream mixture as Jarrin advised above, you needed to prepare a bucket filled with a mixture of crushed ice and salt as Mrs Rundell advised . On the table to the right of Katherine you can see a pewter canister with a handle . This is the sabotiere, or ice-pot,and it is into this that the strawberry cream mixture is poured.
Here is Jarrin’s illustration of a Sabotiere and bucket, from The Italian Confectioner
The Saboitere is placed in the wooden ice-filled pail…
And the ice/salt mixture is packed carefully around the sabotiere.
After ten or so minutes, the ice crystals form and have to be tapped down from the sides of the sabotiere with the spaddle- you can see it here resting on the lid of the sabotiere.
Ideally ,you should be able to spin the sabotiere in the pail,as Mrs Rundell advises, and the strawberry/cream mixture will be frozen up along the sides of the lead container.
This process is repeated about 3 or 4 times, depending on the mixture. The ice crystals will all be broken up by the spaddle and the mixture will be terribly smooth.
Here is Katherine dextrously working away at scraping the ice crystals from the side of the sabotiere. Once the ice cream is set you can eat it…or if you want you can put it into a mould.
This is a great reeded cone pewter mould, one of many owned by Ivan Day: but this one is rather special …..because the owner was one Mr Gunther, confectioner supreme of Berkeley Square.
You can see his signature engraved into the pewter base. Gunther’s tea shop was where The Regency “Ton” would go to eat ices while sitting in their carriages parked around the leafy square.
Once packed with ice cream, the mould is sealed with liquid lard to keep the ice cream safe from the ice/salt mixture( Yes, I know,but that was all they had).The filled mould would be replaced into the pail in order to set. Sometimes an extra layer of insulation was added-brown or cartridge paper was wrapped around the mould as here….you can see it peeping from the ice .
And here is the wonderful confection, turned out and ready to be devoured. I can confirm it was stunningly fragrant :the best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever eaten,the texture was smooth and fabulously silky. A triumph.
The Georgians didn’t stop at strawberry for they used many wonderful flavourings including elderflower and savoury ones such as parmesan.
No wonder Jane Austen loved eating ices the height of luxury in the country in a non refrigerated age.
This is the first of yet another series-Jane Austen and Food. I will be adding posts to this series from time to time. I do hope you will join me.