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?