Queen of Ices
Nothing is more classic than an ice cream parlor. I loved the thought of my family walking together on a summer evening to a nitro ice cream parlor housed in a rehabbed corner store in South St. Louis. It seemed so fitting for the birthplace of the ice cream cone – circa 1914 World’s Fair, right?
St. Louis should be so welcoming to a new ice cream trend that flash-freezes fresh ingredients to create super smooth results, due to very tiny ice crystals. A happy mixture of old and new at Ices Plain and Fancy. Clearly, I was clouded by nostalgia. Not new at all it seems, as nitro ice cream is apparently franchising its franchises at this point and the use of liquid nitrogen to create custom creams was introduced around the turn of the century.
An enterprising young British lady, Agnes B. Marshall, the “Queen of Ices” and Celebrity Chef of her time, proposed this method in her books on ices and ice creams, to include, ahem, Ices Plain and Fancy: The Book of Ices in 1885. Turns out she actually invented the ice cream cone as well: cornets with cream. Clearly, said ice cream parlor did their homework, even if I did not. Oh, and the cone was actually gluten-free, made with ground almonds. Miss Marshall was also on the cutting edge of other Victorian food trends, selling elaborate molds to make the very fashionable jellies: towers of gels in all shapes and sizes.
Think creamy hedgehog molds and clear yellow castles of suspended fruit. Alluring, maybe, foul, assuredly, especially as many of the flavorings were white asparagus and English pea. Seems like there is a move to bring them back from blogs; serve one at your next dinner party and let me know how that goes over. A carrot-flavored pig perhaps? Or maybe try “The Valentine Cream of Vegetables.” Scrolling through pictures of Victorian molds that look like they were designed to remove my fingers, I did recall my childhood love for Jello 1-2-3, though those pastel layers were Cosby-artificial-smile flavored and not beet juice.
However, what also came to mind was the absolute wonder I experienced when I ate my first molecular gastronomy dessert at Arzak – a bottle-cap shaped candy of gelatin and pop rocks. Gelatin is a key ingredient in most molecular kitchens, and often housing savory, not just sweet, flavors. Agnes, you were ahead of your time in many ways, I shouldn’t have judged your jellies so harshly. And though even the less garish use of gelatin by Spain’s Moleculars won’t replace chocolate cake for most, it makes those jellies seem much less archaic.