/ Food & Drink

Ice cream – the world’s most nostalgic food?

Most of us have now given up hope of sustained blue skies this summer. But what else makes a summer apart from sunshine? Ice cream has got to be right up there.

I don’t think I’m alone in having a particular fondness for ice cream. I can still hum the ice cream van tune that used to see my siblings and I sprint out in to the street. And the British seaside wouldn’t be the same without this delicious concoction of cream, milk, sugar, egg (sometimes) and, ideally, not much more.

Of course, it’s not a phenomenon confined to Britain; countries such as Italy, the US and Argentina all have a similar penchant for ice cream, with cross-cultural arguments often breaking out as to who produces the best.

It seems that ice cream is a treat that traverses all cultures, classes and generations, eliciting joyful memories with every luscious bite. One of my strongest memories of my late paternal grandma is her relishing her vanilla ice cream ‘treats’, while my mum recalls not being allowed to lick her ice creams as a child (her parents deemed it too vulgar).

Is there any other foodstuff that drums up the same degree of nostalgia as ice cream?

Increasing sophistication in ice creams

Of course, ice cream has come a long way since my childhood in the 1980s. Then, it came in cardboard-wrapped rectangular blocks, and was either vanilla, chocolate or strawberry-flavoured. And everyone had to have their favourite flavour, as if your choice in some way defined you.

Wall’s Viennetta was brought out on special occasions, and Bird’s Ice Magic – the chocolate sauce that ‘set’ on top of the ice cream – provided simple excitement. But this was about as wacky as it got.

In the 1990s, things started to get more sophisticated, with Häagen-Dazs bringing out a wave of new flavour combinations, and a quality that the humble Mr Whippy simply couldn’t match. Now, premium ice cream in increasingly exotic flavours compete for our attention in the freezer cabinets of posh delis and supermarkets throughout the country.

Scope (or should that be ‘scoop’?) for creativity

Thinking about all this has made me buy an ice cream maker, in order to make my own top-quality ice cream and avoid the unnecessary additives in the mass-produced stuff.

As well as being incredibly tasty, ice cream seems to be a foodstuff that most naturally lends itself to experimentation; surely it’s no coincidence that chef/food chemist Heston Blumenthal describes himself as an ‘ice cream fanatic’! At the top of my list of flavours to try are lavender, cinnamon, and black sesame. And when this so-called summer comes to an end, I might try some ‘winter’ ice creams too, such as whisky and ginger.

And yet, despite all this new-wave experimentation, can we better the original flavours? Vanilla and chocolate still come up time and time again as the nation’s favourite flavours.

So, what does ice cream mean to you? Do you have a favourite flavour and would you ever try making it yourself, whether by hand or with your own ice cream maker?


Three or four special ice cream tastes from my childhood have never deserted me. Holidays in the west country gave me my first taste of locally made Cornish dairy ice cream. It was delicious. In the summer holidays I used to go with my grandfather to the cattlemarket at Bury St Edmunds every Wednesday where a man sold home-made ice cream from a converted motor-cycle side-car combination. Really delicious.

Of the mass-produced ice creams in the 1950’s-60’s, one of my favourites was Lyons Maid’s Strawberry Mivvi [Walls had a similar product called a Split]. Shaped a bit like the modern Magnum but with a fruit flavoured casing around vanilla ice cream on a stick.

A tip from my early adult years: if, after a few jars of best bitter beer, your mouth feels a bit like the floor of a budgerigar’s cage there is nothing quite like a choc-ice or two to restore the tissues.

A lovely description, John. I would not be so kind about Greene King’s beers. I’ll stick with the choc-ice, or two.

The closest thing to a Mivvi and Split is the Wall’s Solero isn’t it?

Sophie Gilbert says:
7 August 2012

What else made a summer apart from sunshine was all the summer fruit as they were coming into season, unlike now when they are here practically all year round thanks to Tesco et al. What we have lost this way is incalculable.

Ice cream? Oh yes. A scoop or two on a cone, that’s what does it for me. But the ice cream has to be made on the premises without artificial flavour or colour, be more interesting than vanilla or chocolate (though I don’t turn my nose up at these flavours necessarily), and not include what I would call gimmicks, eg bits of marshmallow in it and what not. I’m a purist and difficult to please probably! When I’m abroad that’s one of the things I make sure I try if I stumble on the right shop, ice cream, or indeed sorbet, with flavours like fig, hazelnut, sweet chesnut (my favourite!), blackberry, pear, etc, etc, etc, and what textures! A delight I doubt I would ever be able to reproduce in my own kitchen even with the best ice cream maker in the world. This conversation has left me dreaming.

I second John Ward’s comments on Cornish Dairy ice cream. The first time I tasted it I was quite shocked that anything could be so amazing. I also have fond memories of Bird’s Ice Magic – my siblings and I used to fight over who got the last few drizzles!

I feel like ice cream is having a bit of a revival – especially in the area I live. As it’s quite a religious area, most of the young people (late teens, early twenties) go to ice cream parlours on dates, or to meet friends, rather than to the pub. This means that within walking distance of my house there are some spectacular American-style ice-cream parlours with over 100 flavours of ice cream, sorbet and (my new favourite) kulfi. Nothing beats a visit on a sunny day, and the best thing is they let you sample a few flavours before making your final choice.

Ice cream was a treat and had to be eaten and treated with care. There were so many disasters that could happen – the whole scoop could slide off the top of the cornet, the whole lovely creamy Cornish rectangular block of ice cream could slide out from between the wafers. You had to concentrate and get your timing right so that you didn’t get too covered in drips. It was much more exciting to eat than it is now.

Who bothers now? Everybody is encouraged to have freezers to keep masses of food in. Not a few little ice creams but huge tubs. There is an idea that you save packaging by buying in bigger tubs. Do you really? Maybe on paper but not likely in reality as you just eat more, get bigger and want more and all you need to do is to go out to the supermarket and buy more and more and more to stock up that now American sized freezer. You’re hooked.

It tastes better as a scoop at the seaside on a sunny day (preferably a chocolate cornet with clotted cream on top). Tub-hugging sofa-sitting soap stars have rather ruined the taste of it at home and it is relegated to autumn and winter to go with the rare hot cruit crumbles and pies.

Fresh fruit and cream in a freshly baked sponge cake is more of an ephemeral summer experience. You can’t buy it at the supermarket. It has to have just come out of the oven and be heralded by the smell of cake baking. 10min cooking in the oven and perhaps that whisking and only three ingredients. The raspberries or strawberries from the garden.

Oven scones is another. They are far superior to bought and must be fresh – yesterday’s are too old.

I can almost map the different stages of my life by the ice creams I craved.. Until ten I was desperate for mini milks and banana splits (like prawn cocktails, they must be due a revival?), the latter usually bought for me in Wimpy restaurants. In my teens I progressed to rum and raisin scoops from Mr whippy as I thought they contained alcohol. Also discovered the awesome ’99 with flake’ which always ended up down my sleeve. In my 20’s I succumbed to the ‘bits’ in Ben and Jerry’s. Now my tastes have matured a little I’m open to new flavours- just come back from the US where, in 100* heat, I tried a new flavour almost every day (as well as frozen yoghurts which are almost as popular out there): pumpkin was nice, chilli was really good, wine ice cream was a favourite and Anna, you must definitely try lavender- its delicious.

Mint choc chip and strawberry are my favourite flavours, though I do like to try new adventurous versions. New Forest, where I’m from, makes great ice-cream, but there’s an Italian ice-creamery in Clapham that makes the creamiest and most generous I’ve seen.