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Georgian Ices and Victorian Bombes

The first record of ice cream in this country is from 1671. It was on the menu of a feast for the Knights of the Garter held in St. George's Hall at Windsor Castle. However, at this time it was such an exclusive dish that it appeared only on the king's table. The earliest printed recipe appeared in Mrs. Eale's Receipts, a little work on confectionery published in London in 1718. Mrs Eales claimed to have been confectioner to Queen Anne, during whose reign ice cream continued to be a luxury enjoyed only at court and by the nobility. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that ices become more widely available from confectioners' shops.

A set of Sèvres tasses à glace arranged on a plateau au bouret (1766). The ices were made by Ivan from recipes in Emy's L 'Art de Bien Faire Les Glaces d 'Office (1768). The red ices are glace de épine-vinette (barberry), the green - neige de pistachio (pistachio) and the brown - glace au pain de seigle (rye bread ice).

The pewter freezing pot or sabotiere and the ice spaddle or houlette, were both probably invented in Naples during the seventeenth century. The sabotiere was put in a wooden bucket containing a mixture of ice and salt. The mixture to be frozen was poured into the sabotiere and in Borella's own words you had to then, "detach with a pewter spoon, all the flakes which stick to the sides, in order to make it congeal equally all over in the pot. Then you must work them well as much as you are able, for they are so much the more mellow as they are well worked: and their delicacy depends entirely upon that ".

An eighteenth century Sorbetiere

An eighteenth century sabotiere (more correctly sorbetière) from Joseph Gillier's book on confectionery Le Cannameliste Français (Nancy: 1750). Click to find out more about our course on ices.

The confectionery shops of the eighteenth century were rather like modern ice cream parlours. It was possible to sit down and enjoy an ice fresh from the freezing pot, or to order a larger quantity to take away for an important dinner or ball supper. Although these shops could only be found in towns and cities, ice creams were also made in large country houses where ice was available from an ice house in the grounds. The cook and housekeeper Mary Smith, who worked for Sir William Blackett at Wollaton Hall in Northumberland offers some good recipes in her book The Complete Housekeeper & Cook (Newcastle 1770), demonstrating that ices were known well away from the capital.

A group of putti making and serving ices in the French manner. Note the plateau au bouret with its tasses à glace. From Emy's L 'Art de Bien Faire Les Glaces d 'Office.

Another putto with a plateau bouret. The foot of the plateau enabled it to be held without any fear of warmth melting the ices.

The Georgian confectioner G.A. Jarrin, whose book contains the earliest recipe for an ice bombe.

A pewter bombe mould. This shape was probably derived from the sorbetiere.

Jarrin's bomba ice was frozen in a standard pewter sorbetiere and would have resembled an artillery shell, or bomb, of the kind used in the Napoleonic Wars. Pewter bombe moulds with a closer resemblance to a shell, than the straight sided sorbetiere, started to emerge from the pewterers during the course of the nineteenth century.

Muscadine Ice Bombe

Borella's muscadine ice survived into the nineteenth century. Here it is made in a round bombe mould with a cherry fruit top. This is a cross between a grenade type mould and a melon mould. Click it to find out more about bombe ices.

Cherry top bombe from Frederick Vine

Cherry topped bombes in the form of large melons were popular at this period. That above is from Frederick Vine's Ices Plain and Decorated published at the beginning of the 20th century. The new social conditions with arose after the Great War brought about the gradual demise of fancy ices of this kind, though they continued to be popular in the United States for another 40 years or so.

bombe mould

Neapolitan Rose Mould

Neapolitan Ices were made in brick shaped moulds and layered with different coloured ice creams. A popular and more fancy variation was a Neapolitan mould topped with three roses, a decorative ice commonly served in the 1889s and 90s. Hold your mouse over the old print above to see a pewter mould of this type.

Neapolitan Rose Top Ice from Frederick Vine

Moulded ices had became so popular by the 1830s that they brought about the extinction of a fascinating piece of equipment used for serving ices at table in unmoulded form. This was the ice cream pail or seau à glace, a three or four part porcelain or glass pot which first came into use in the 1720s.


seau a glace

The ice cream pail seems to have been inspired by the daubiere or braizing pan, a ccoking pot with a deep lid that could be filled with hot coals. This pan was similar to what today is called a Dutch Oven in the US.

Ice Pail

This drawing made for the Leeds Pottery shows the anatomy of an ice cream pail, with its hidden liner. The photograph opposite shows the liner filled with the ice cream. If ice alone is used to fill both the lid and the bucket, the ice cream melts very quickly. Although there is nothing recorded in the literature, it is almost certain that a little salt was sprinkled on the ice, which improves the refrigerant effect. Experimentation has shown that ice cream will remain in a frozen state in a seau à glace for up to four hours if salt is added to ice in both compartments. A small amount of ice eventually forms on the outside of the pail, which usually will cause condensation and possible adhesion to the table cloth. It is likely that these pails would have been placed on a plate or stand. Later designs often had feet to prevent them from freezing to the table. These fascinating objects were rarely made after 1830.


A medley of superb Georgian ices on an eighteenth century English glass salver. Front - from left to right - bergamot water ice and punch water ice. Back - left to right - royal cream ice, chocolate cream ice, burnt filbert cream ice and parmesan cream ice.

It comes as a great surprise to most people when they learn that ices were popular dessert foods in eighteenth century England. It has often been incorrectly assumed that the ice cream of this period was quite primitive and consisted of a hard mass of flavourless icy crystals. The truth is that the quality was very high and the astonishing variety of flavours available in a Georgian confectionery shop would easily compete with that offered today in a modern Italian gelateria!

Borella's recipe for muscadine ice, a lemon water or white currant ice scented with elderflowers

Although they had been known in England since the 1670's, ices were popularised by French and Italian confectioners who set up shops in London and a few other cities in the 1760's. Some varieties that are fashionable in modern times, such as brown bread and pistachio, actually date from this period. The first English recipes for these two flavours appear in a confectionery text of 1770. In the same book are recipes for ices made with elderflowers, jasmine, white coffee, tea, pineapple, barberries and a host of other tempting and unusual flavours. Although this book was published anonymously, we learn from the second edition of 1772 that the author was called Mr. Borella, and that he was confectioner to the Spanish ambassador. His little work The Court and Country Confectioner was aimed at instructing English housekeepers in the mysteries of making the sort of high class confectionery that was fashionable in court circles on the continent. Although there had been earlier English cookery books that offered a few ice cream recipes, Borella's work was the first to give really clear instructions to make this novel and prestigious delicacy. Below is the full recipe for his elder-flavoured muscadine ice:

Muscadine Ices

Take one ounce of elder flower, which you put in a sabotiere, pour upon it about half a pint of boiling water, cover your sabotiere with its lid, thus let it draw about half an hour, make then a composition precisely, as it were to make a plain lemon ice, and as directed in that article; to tha tcomposition add your infusion of elder flower, pass the whole through a sieve, and put it in the sabotiere to congeal as we have explained.

From Borella The Court and Country Confectioner (London: 1770)

Borella also suggests a variant on this recipe, which is made with white currant ice rather than lemon water ice. This unusual combination is actually one of the most spectacular ices of all time and demonstrates just how inventive the eighteenth century confectioner could be. Some of Borella's othr recipes seem to have been extracted from a treatise on ices which had been published in Paris in 1768. This, L 'Art de Bien Faire Les Glaces d 'Office, was the work of another professional confectioner called Emy.

When the ice cream had "congealed", it was sometimes put into hinged lead or pewter moulds in the form of fruits, or other novelty shapes. The seams were sealed with lard and they were wrapped in brown paper before being plunged into the salt and ice mixture for about two hours to freeze hard. After being turned out of the moulds, the fruits were preserved in their frozen state in an early form of refrigerator known as an ice cave. These fruits glacés were often coloured with edible pigments and provided with stalks and leaves to make them look realistic. Moulds in the form of citrons, pineapples, bergamot pears and apricots were popular. Some in the form of crayfish, asparagus, cuts of meat and truffles were also used. In France, rich custard-based ices known as fromages glacés were frozen in moulds in the form of cheeses. Fake biscuits and canelons (cigar shaped wafers) were also popular. Water ices and frozen mousses were made in a remarkable variety of flavours. Some of them included the alcoholic liqueurs of the day, such as the almond-flavoured ratafia and the spicy rossolis. In England, frozen punches were particularly popular. These were based on lemon, or Seville orange sorbet fortified with rum.

One of the confectioners who helped establish a taste for quality continental ice cream in England was an Italian called Domenico Negri, who traded from The Pot and Pineapple in Berkeley Square from about 1765. Two of his apprentices published recipe books later in the century, which both have large sections on ice creams. One of these, Frederick Nutt, whose The Complete Confectioner first appeared in 1789, gives thirty two recipes for ice cream and twenty four for water ices. Below are a few of Nutt's recipes. In order to try them you will need to make a syrup from the following recipe. Use the quantities of syrup indicated in Nutt's recipes. A gill is 5 fluid ounces.

To make a stock syrup for Nutt's ice cream recipes

1000 mIs of water and 1 kg of sugar.

Bring the water to the boil and remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. When cool store in a large jar and keep it in a cold place until required

Royal Ice Cream

Take the yolks of ten eggs and two whole eggs; beat them up well with your spoon; then take the rind of one lemon, two gills of syrup, one pint of cream, a little spice, and a little orange flower water; mix them all well and put them over the fire, strring them all the time with your spoon; when you find it grows thick take it off, and pass it through a sieve; put it into a freezing pot, freeze it, and take a little citron , and lemon and orange peel with a few pistachio nuts blanched; cut them all and mince them with your ice before you put them in your moulds.

Burnt Filbert Ice Cream

Roast some Barcelona nuts well in the oven, and pound them a little with some cream; put four eggs into a stewpan, with one pint of cream and two gills of syrup; boil it till it grows thick, pass it through a sieve and freeze it; then mix your filberts with it before you put it in your moulds.

Parmesan Ice Cream

Take six eggs, half a pint of syrup and a pint of cream put them into stewpan and boil them until it begins to thicken ; then rasp three ounces of parmesan cheese, mix and pass them through a sieve, and freeze it.

Burnt Ice Cream
Take six eggs, one gill of syrup and one pint of cream; boil it over the fire until it becomes thick; then have two ounces of powdered sugar in another stewpan, and put it over the fire; let it burn till it melts, stirring all the time and when you see it is all burnt of a fine brown, pour the other in, mix it quickly, pass it through a sieve, and freeze it.
Bergamot Water Ice
Squeeze three lemons into a basin, add two gills of syrup, half a pint of water and half a tea spoonful of essence of bergamot, pass it and freeze it rich before you put it into your moulds.

It is possible that Nutt learnt his ice recipes from his Italian master Domenico Negri, whose trade card is reproduced above. Negri's shop eventually came into the ownership of the celebrated Gunter family, who continued to trade well into the twentieth century. In the early nineteenth Gunters employed the great Italian confectioner G.A. Jarrin as an ornament maker. Jarrin's remarkable book The Italian Confectioner (London: 1820) has a very comprehensive section on ices, including the very first recipe for an ice cream bombe. This 'Bomba Ice' was moulded in a sorbetière from a noyeau or maraschino flavoured spume, a light mousse-like ice. This could be hollowed out and the cavity filled with a cream ice of a different flavour.
Nineteenth century copper bombe moulds
Bombe moulds were also made in copper and were provided with a screw to allow the vacuum inside the mould to be dispelled, making the ice easier to demould. Those illustrated above are from a Herbert Benham catalogue and show the great variety of bombe shapes that started to evolve from the shell-type mould. The shape on the extreme right is a 'pipe lid' that enabled a bombe to be made with a hollow centre which could be filled with another flavoured ice. Move your mouse over the old print to see the actual moulds. Click to see how a pipe lid was actually used to create a spectacular bombe ice.


Above: an Alexandretta Bombe surrounded by its garnishing ices. The large cream bombe was flavoured with orangeflower water and coconut, while the garnishing ices were made with apple water ice. Below: ices in the form of anarchist's bombs or grenades were popular in the later nineteenth century. The flames were usually made with spun sugar. The illustrations below and to the left are of the moulds used to make these Victorian joke items..

bombe melon moulds

Victorian Neapolitan Ices

Neapolitan Rose Top Ice from Mrs Marshall

Neapolitan Rose Top Ice

Above: A Fancy Neapolitan Ice layered with strawberry, pistachio and vanilla ices. The roses are made from redcurrant water ice. Water ices are better than ice creams for picking out fine detail on ice moulds of this kind. Plain Neapolitan brick moulds were often made of tin and survived well into the twentieth century. When they were cut into slices, the colours were said to represent the Italian Flag, but since many different flavours were used, this could be just one of the usual food history myths.

The Ice Cream Pail or Seau à glace

Ice Cream Pail

A French porcelain ice cream pail used for keeping ices cool for serving at table. This one was manufactured in Angouleme c.1790. The ice cream is put in a liner inside the pail which is surrounded above and below with ice.

eseau a glace

Porcelain was the ideal material for making ice cream pails because it is impervious to salt. There is at least one surviving French seau à glace made in tin glazed earthernware, a very unsuitable material as the salt would find its way through the crazing on the glaze and cause it to flake off.

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