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But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

So wrote Jane Austen from her rich brother’s home, Godmersham Park in Kent, in a letter to her sister Cassandra dated July 1st, 1808.

Ice creams, iced drinks and iced displays were only available to the wealthy and well to do in Jane Austen’s era. As Ivan Day writes in the book under review here today:

When ice cream first appeared in Britain in the seventeenth century, it was a luxury enjoyed solely by the inhabitants of royal palaces and noble households. For two hundred years it  remained an upper-class treat…

Ices could only be made on estates that possessed the luxury of an ice house- a place where,  in the cold winter months, ice from lakes was stored to use throughout the year to make cold drink, puddings ( ice creams and iced waters) and decorative iced table-pieces.

There, deep  under the earth, the ice- the Harvest of the Winter Months- as Elizabeth David termed it, was stored throughout the year until it had all gone, usually in late summer. Note the lake/pond ice itself was not eaten, as that would have been disgusting. It was used, usually with the addition of salt, to make other things freeze and chill.

From the mid 18th century ices also could be bought- at a price- from smart confectioners in the larger towns in England, such as the famed Gunther’s in Berkeley Square..

It is really no wonder then that Jane Austen relished the ease and elegance and luxury of her brother’s home, drinking French wine( not their usual home-bred effort ) and eating those rare ices. Something she would not normally have had access to in her little village in Hampshire.

Today’s book under review is a concise but very well written history of the ice cream in Britain. Ivan Day, the author, is, as you know, one of the foremost food historians in England. I have been lucky enough to attend some of his food courses and have been spellbound each time we have made ice cream in the Georgian manner, without the need for any modern refrigerators.

Here we have my photograph of some strawberry ice cream we were making in the 18th century way, in Gunther’s own pillar mould, set to freeze in a mixture of ice and salt, within a wooden pail.

This book, published by Shire, is fascinating. It covers, of course, periods both before and after the Georgian era, but has enough material to interest us, and for its price( £6.99) is amazingly good value. The chapters on ice houses and how the ice was gathered and stored are clear and concise. The chapter on Georgian ices is fascinating, the range of flavours on offer makes today’s ice cream manufactures offerings seem tame.

Above in an illustration from the book, is Frederick Nutt’s handwritten list of ice cream varieties dating from 1780. They include sweet ices; Burnt Ice Cream(  flavoured with caramel), Burnt Almond, and Damson, together with savoury flavours, for example, Parmesan Cheese.

Ivan gives copious amounts of information as to how these ices were made, served at tale and consumed. The history of the development of ice cream recipes is entertainingly written, tracing the developments from the first known English recipe, written by Lady Anne Fanshawe who lived from 1625-1680. Ivan has an immense collection of original recipe books from this era until the turn of the last century, and plunders them in this small book to provide vivid illustrations as to how these early ices were made. The book is well and appropriately illustrated and the examples of ices made by Ivan, from his truly astounding collection of ice cream moulds, are simply breathtaking:

A nice touch is the addition to the book of recipes taken from Frederick Nutt’s list, above, all adapted for use in modern ice cream makers. I can thoroughly recommend this detailed and well written overview of the history of creating and eating ice cream and I am sure that you will enjoy it.

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