With sum­mer well and truly here, Ju­lian Humphrys serves up a quick scoop of ice cream his­tory

BBC History Magazine - - History Now / Backgrounder -

When did ice cream first ap­pear on the culi­nary scene?

The first men­tions we have of ice cream, as op­posed to flavoured ice dishes such as sher­bets and sor­bets, date from the 17th cen­tury. At that time, it was ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. A feast held on St Ge­orge’s Day at Wind­sor Cas­tle in 1671 in­cluded “one plate of white straw­ber­ries and one plate of iced cream” – served to King Charles II’s ta­ble alone. In 1718, Mrs Mary Eales’s Re­ceipts be­came the first printed English cook­book to in­clude a recipe for ice cream but it would re­main a costly del­i­cacy for more than a cen­tury.

How did it be­come af­ford­able?

Much of the credit has to go to Swiss émi­gré Carlo Gatti. In the 1850s he be­came Britain’s first mass man­u­fac­turer of ice cream. Us­ing ice first cut from Re­gent’s Canal and later im­ported from Nor­way in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, Gatti set up a stand near Char­ing Cross where he of­fered scoops of ice cream in shells for a penny each. By 1858 he was sell­ing as many as 10,000 a day.

Who was ‘The Queen of Ices’?

Agnes Bertha Mar­shall. Born in Waltham­stow in 1855, she was in many ways one of the fore­run­ners of to­day’s celebrity cooks. As well as giv­ing pub­lic lec­tures on cook­ing and set­ting up a cook­ery school, she wrote ex­ten­sively on ices, patented an ice cream-mak­ing ma­chine and even sug­gested the use of liq­uid ni­tro­gen in the freez­ing process. Her 1888 Book of Cook­ery in­cluded what was pos­si­bly the first ever pub­lished recipe for an ed­i­ble ice cream cone.

Why is an ice cream cone with a choco­late flake stuck in it called a 99?

That ques­tion has caused more de­bate than the con­tro­versy over the fate of the princes in the Tower! It was once ar­gued that Ital­ian ven­dors in Britain named them af­ter the 99 elite sol­diers who (sup­pos­edly) made up the guard of the Ital­ian king at the turn of the 20th cen­tury. More re­cently it has been claimed that it was de­rived from the ad­dress of an ice cream shop in Por­to­bello, Scot­land. The Ox­ford English Dic­tionary re­mains un­con­vinced and sim­ply says that the rea­son for the name is un­known.

A child de­vours an ice cream on the sands of Cliftonville, Kent in Au­gust 1954

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