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Object Focus : Fancy Ices

Fancy ices were a very popular part of late nineteenth century dinner menus for the middle and upper classes. They were shaped using moulds many of which have subsequently found their way into museum collections.
Moulds for ices were generally made from pewter as it was the best conductor of heat. All metals conduct heat very well but pewter was particularly suited for the cold temperatures. Surrounded by ice, pewter will become very cold which means that the cream ice will freeze solid and take on the shape of the mould very well. Although popularised by Mrs Marshall, the moulds had been around for a number of decades prior to her book in 1885. Bomb moulds, where two or more ices were layered in a mould, were some of the earliest. By the 1850s there were also Pillar moulds which consisted of a base, a shaft which could have a fluted pattern on it, and a capitol on the top which often had an elaborately moulded design on it - such as a rose or a number of fruits. Moulds for ices were often hinged or consisted of three parts to help to extract the moulded ice in one piece. Dipping the mould in warm water helped to release the ice from the sides of the mould.
York Castle Museum has a number of ice cream moulds in a variety of sizes and shapes, including a wheatsheaf design, a basket of fruits, a cucumber and a peach. All of these are illustrated in Mrs Marshall’s The Book of Ices. They range in price from 1s 9d for the peach to 26s for the basket of fruits mould.
Ices could be made from a base of water, cream or custard and were then flavoured with sugar and fruit pulp for additional flavour and colour. Concentrated essence and food colourings were also added. To freeze the mixture it was put in an ice cream making machine, basically a wooden bucket with a cylindrical tin container and a crank handle which turned a paddle in the container. A mixture of ice and salt was packed around the container in the bucket. It was important to keep stirring so the mixture froze evenly without large ice crystals forming. Once the mixture had reached the consistency of a thick batter it could be pressed firmly into the elaborate pewter moulds, which had already been chilled and then left to set in ice, or freezers (ice caves as they were known then) before being turned out and decorated. Ices could be painted with additional food colouring to make them eye catching. Stalks and leaves were often added to give the illusion of real fruit, but there were many more elaborate designs as well. According to Mrs A. B. Marshall in The Book of Ices, 1885: ‘In using ice moulds, great taste and novelty can be exercised in dishing up, and they afford to the cook the opportunity of making some of the prettiest dishes it is possible to send to the table.’

Moulded ice cream began to fall out of favour in the first part of the twentieth century when elaborate food which took time to prepare was replaced by simpler fare.

As it is summer I thought I would include a recipe from Mrs Marshall’s book for cucumber cream ice, but unfortunately I can’t lend you the cucumber mould to really impress your friends!
First you have to start with the basic ice cream. Mrs Marshall provided four versions of custards for cream ices, depending on taste and income. She delightfully called them ‘very rich’, ‘ordinary’, ‘common’, and ‘cheap’. The ‘very rich’ consisting of 1 pint of cream, ¼ lb castor sugar and 8 yolks of eggs, the ‘cheap’ consisting of 1 pt milk, ¼ lb sugar and ½ oz cornflour or arrowroot.
For ‘ordinary’ custard for cream ice Mrs Marshall recommends the following:
1 pint of milk, a quarter of a pound of castor sugar, 8 yolks of eggs.
Put the milk in a pan over the fire, and let it come to the boil, and then pour it on to the sugar and the yolks in a basin and mix well. Return it to the pan and keep it stirred over the fire till it thickens and clings well to the spoon, but do not let it boil; then pass it through a tammy or hair sieve, or strainer. Let it cool; add vanilla or other flavour, and freeze. This can be improved by using half a pint of milk and half a pint of cream instead of all milk.
To make the cucumber flavour:
Peel and remove the seeds from the cucumber, and to 1 large-sized cucumber add 4 ounces of sugar and half a pint of water; cook until tender. Then pound and add to it a wine-glass of ginger brandy and a little green colouring and the juice of two lemons; pass through the hair sieve, and add this to 1 pint of sweetened cream or custard. Freeze and finish as usual

Sarah Maultby
Assistant Curator of Social History
York Castle Museum