The Artful Ice Cream

Shire Books

Ivan Day’s charming and mouth-watering history of ice cream – a link is under the cover image on the left- has opened my eyes to the amazing world of Victorian ice cream. Even though the very first written recipes for “iced cream” date from the 17th century, it really was the Victorians who transformed this favorite dessert into High Art.

Molds from The Royal English and Foreign Confectioner Chas Francatelli 1862
The Royal English and Foreign Confectioner (1862)

For example, did you know that in the 19th century, at a fancy dinner, you might be served an incredible trompe l’oeil (literally “trick of the eye” – meaning something made to look like something else) ice cream in the shape of  a roast joint of beef surrounded by champagne bottles (all done in ice creams, mind you) -  or a huge filigreed fruit basket – or even the Taj Mahal? Day’s book is illustrated with some incredible pictures from cookery books, and even photographs of Victorian ice cream molds. Day has included photographs of some modern recreations of Victorian trompe d’oeil ice creams – and they really are lovely.

Agnes Marshall, inventor of an ice cream freezer in the 1880s, had some good recipes – her Sultan Pudding, for example, was made of vanilla and maraschino cherry ice cream, with Turkish Delight decorations, and was shaped like a mosque. “Ideal for ball suppers,” she noted (and I have made a note of the same, if I ever give one of these). Or perhaps you’d prefer ice cream in the shape of asparagus stalks tied with a ribbon? Miss Marshall can do that, too.

Ice Cream, of course, continues on to the 20th century, to ice cream carts and ice cream popsicles and cones, all lavishly illustrated, all fascinating. But it is the Victorian ice creams that I like the best. Not just the shapes, but the flavors, too: orange flower, chestnut, almond macaroon, tea, apricot, damson plum. Even the odd 17th century flavor of parmesan cheese was still made then. Day includes the parmesan recipe along with a few others, at the end of the book, in case you’d like to try it.  I think I’ll try the other 17th century iced cream favorite, burnt almond, instead.

Ice Cream by Ivan Day
Shire Library, 2011 (64 pp.)

[Here's the disclosure part: Shire Books kindly sent a free copy of Ice Cream to me, but all the opinions above are my own.]

Book Review: The Good Life on a Budget

The Good Life on a Budget: Delicious, fun and timeless tips for tough times
Jaqueline Mitchell, compiler
Osprey Publishing, 2011 (191 pp.)

If you like old housekeeping guides and cookbooks as much as I do, you will love The Good Life on a Budget, compiled by Jaqueline Mitchell (Osprey Publishing, 2011). It’s a compilation of housekeeping tips from booklets published in Britain in the 1950s, with still-great advice on everything from cheap but delicious food, mending clothes, keeping things clean around the house and crafts.

Tasty tisanes (herbal teas), homemade weather vanes, how to make chutneys and preserves, and even a few wartime recipes like Mock Sausage – these are just a few of the things you’ll find here. I’ve already copied out a few of the recipes for preserves because I’ve been meaning to make jam for some time now – and this may inspire me to actually, you know, do that.

Aside from the jam recipes, the other 1950s tips that particularly interest me in this book are those on how to darn holes in sweaters. I have a couple of beautiful old-ish wool sweaters that have some small but irksome holes in them (and aren’t holes in sweaters always irksome). The Good Life on a Budget has a guide that makes darning look do-able even for me, who is so Not Handy with the mending.

There are also wonderful illustrations, some in color, featuring the original booklets and some old advertisements, too. I especially like the poster that announces “Green Vegetables Keep You Fit” that shows a cartoon elephant hoisting a little cabbage.

I really enjoyed this book and if you like retro advice and tips that stand the test of time, I think that you will, too.

Many many thanks to the folks at Osprey Publishing who were kind enough to send The Good Life on a Budget to me (the opinions are, of course, my own – I have to say that, even though you know that already).

It would be delightful if you would join me over on my new Facebook fan page (the widget is over on the sidebar, you just need to click ‘Like’)! I will try and make that page fun, too. Maybe I can give you some darning tips – once I’ve tackled my desperate forest green cardigan, that is!

I haven’t forgotten about another Etiquette Mystery, by the way. That’s coming soon, I promise.

Book Review: Discovering Words In the Kitchen

Discovering Words In the Kitchen
Julian Walker
Shire Books, 2010
96 pp.

I am known, in my family, for getting up from the table in the middle of dinner to go look up a word in the dictionary. Often it is the same Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology that my mother used to consult when she needed to look up a word we were using in conversation at dinner many years ago (so you can see where I got it from!). My family are kind and tolerant, and they like word history too, so they just smile when they hear me say “let me just look that up” and go off to the bookshelves in the next room.

Now, with Discovering Words in the Kitchen – a wonderful little culinary etymological dictionary – I can have my words and eat them (or rather, eat my dinner) too. Walker’s introduction is a concise and helpful history of dining in Britain through the ages. The rest of the book is divided into sections dealing with all manner of ingredients – fruits, vegetables, cereals and so on – as well as with a few common dishes such as the omelette. The omelette (to give you an example of the things you can learn from this book) is either a variation of the Old French oeufs mêlés (mixed eggs) or possibly  from the Medieval French alumette (from the Latin for “thin layer” or “sword blade”). Kitchen implements, cupboard ingredients and general cooking terms are also covered.

So now I keep Discovering Words in the Kitchen right in the kitchen and instead of simmering (originally simpering, but also possibly from the Germanic root sim meaning to hum) when I need to drop a bit of word history into the conversational soup (Old English soppe, something in which soppets or suppets – toasted bits of bread – were dunked) – I will be able to stay in my chair and refer to this informative and very enjoyable book. This will please everyone here at home except one of the cats, who feels that she ought to have a place at the table, and takes my seat every time I leave it.

Note: Shire Books was kind enough to send this book to me for free (as well as several other titles that I’ll be reviewing in the future) – but as always the opinions expressed are totally my own.

More Books: The 1930s Home and The 1940s Home

The 1930s Home
by Greg Stevenson
Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009
40 pp.

The 1940s Home
by Paul Evans and Peter Doyle
Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009
48 pp.

These two informative books, companions to The 1950s Home which I reviewed here last week (the link is at the end of this review), give the retro enthusiast a comprehensive look at the British home in the middle decades of the 20th century. Lavishly illustrated with photographs, ephemera and wonderful period advertisements, all three of these books take one through a good overview of British architectural design, house construction, furnishings and decor, and gardens. 

The 1930s house, whether a suburban villa, a Moderne bungalow or a “Tudorbethan” mock-historical semi, was a charming blend of old and new styles which still holds up well in today’s housing market. Houses were built in quantity for new home-owners who took advantage of good mortgages and good prices. The homes reflected the smaller, servantless households of the 1930s, with fitted kitchens and well-lit, efficient spaces.

The 1940s was, of course, a decade dominated by wartime shortages and hardships. So it is no surprise that a good part of The 1940s House is dedicated to discussing items such as bomb shelters, blackout curtains, and the simple, modern and rather attractive Utility furniture which the British householder could purchase with ration coupons. Though, as Evans and Doyle point out, the 1940s are often remembered as a drab, dull period in house decor and design, this is not entirely so. Shortages forced designers to create furnishings and kitchenware from interesting materials- such as aluminum and plastics. The streamlined look of decor presaged the modern, forward-looking ideals of 1950s design.

I very much enjoyed reading all three of these books and would recommend them to anyone interested in the history of mid-20th century British homes. Stevenson also lists “Places To Visit’ and a short bibliography at the end of The 1930s House, which is most helpful. My review of The 1950s House is here, and all of these books may be ordered from Shire Books.

Book Review: The 1950s Home

I am so pleased to have the opportunity to review several books from Shire Books, here and also at The Virtual Dime Museum, in the weeks to come. Here is the first:

Sophie Leighton
The 1950s Home
Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009
56 pp.

Among the wonders exhibited at the 1955 Daily Mail Ideal Home Show in Britain was a living room fitted with sliding doors, behind which were tucked two bunk beds. This perfectly modern invention that made a virtue of necessity, typified the British philosophy of home-making and decorating in the 1950s.

The end of World War II in 1945 and of rationing in the early 1950s allowed for massive social change and growth in that decade. Sophie Leighton, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, writes about this change in house design and furnishings, decor and gardens with precision and clarity. She notes the transition to smaller, cleverly utilized spaces, clean ‘modern’ lines in furniture, and multi-purpose gardens. She illustrates her points with wonderful old ads which themselves typify the bright, streamlined look of ‘modern’ decor. The black and white photographs are evocative, too – especially those of the new council houses and flats, which look both new and bleak.

The 1950s saw a new emphasis on light and clean spaces in homes. Homes tended to be smaller than in earlier eras, and rooms were used for several purposes as opposed to, say, a dining room in a Victorian house used only for dining. Open-plan houses were designed with efficiency and variety of purpose in mind.

Housing shortages after the war led to the construction of council houses and flats, as well as pre-fabs made of such odd materials as steel and asbestos cement sheeting. Furniture and decor took on a minimalist, sleek look. Most families, though, mixed their older pieces with the new – just as we do now. Most people could not afford to entirely modernize their homes. The improvements they did make were supported by the new magazines which explained decor and DIY, such as Practical Householder.

In The 1950s Home, Leighton packs a great deal of information into a small book, beautifully – just as the interior designers and architects of the 1950s did when creating the homes of that era.