by Weir, R.; Deith, J.; Brears, P.; Barham, P.; and Mrs. A. B. Marshall
ISBN-13: 978-1858251028 Publisher: Smith Settle / Syon House Year: 1998
4 out of 5 stars
This small, paperbound copy of Mrs. Marshall: The Greatest Victorian Ice Cream Maker, is actually a compilation of four different lectures/papers by modern historians and an accurate reproduction of the original The Book of Ices by Mrs. A. B. Marshal.
First off, this book is no longer in print. I was able to obtain this book via my public library’s Interlibrary Loan service. At least within the Lincoln City Libraries system, for a mere $2.50 (barely enough to cover shipping of a book nowadays) the library will hunt down your request. It’s a really cool way to get access to some older, historical books. As I have a strong interest in historical cooking, I use their services regularly. I would recommend giving it a try or checking out your options at your local library. And go and support your library anyway!
The four different lectures which prelude Mrs. A. B. Marshall’s The Book of Ices really set the stage to understand late Victorian cookery. The different lectures are most definitely written by historians, not avid writers, and are a bit dry. However, this dryness can be overlooked by the undercurrent of venom in some of these historians. Most people are not particularly familiar with Mrs. Marshall and her significant contributions to Victorian cookery, especially ices and ice cream production. This omission of Mrs. Marshall from culinary history books is definitely an ax these authors wish to grind.
The first lecturer, Robin Weir, lists Mrs. Marshall’s numerous “firsts” in the culinary scene, among which she is credited with the origin of the edible ice cream cone. The second lecture by John Deith gives a very straightforward, albeit brief and somewhat dry, biography of Mrs. Marshall’s life. She was, in many ways, similar to our modern star chefs. She ran a cooking school and gave guest lectures throughout England, she wrote four cookbooks in her unfortunately rather short lifetime, and developed and sold many ice cream related cooking gadgets and small appliances. Upon the completion of this biography, Mr. Deith contemplates why Mrs. Marshall has been forgotten in the sands of time, while her contemporaries Mrs. Beeton and Escoffier are such pillars of modern cuisine. Mr. Deith offers a rather entertaining conspiracy theory as to why Mrs. Beeton is so well known and Mrs. Marshall is forgotten. I don’t want to spoil the book, but it is a fun little idea. Let’s just say, you have to just love the British.
The third article is written by Peter Brears and is definitely the most entertaining, and also the most insightful to Mrs. Marshall’s grand successes in the late Victorian era and offers a more logical reason for her eventual downfall into obscurity. He opens with the concept that the Victorian era was a time of growing wealth of the middle class. Oddly, considering this lecture was written sometime around 1998, he seems to view this new growth of the middle class in a very negative way. For example, Mr. Brears writes, “Compared to the solid worth and mature taste of their Georgian and early Victorian predecessors, their [middle-class ladies] lifestyle was decidedly brash and flash . . . .” While the upper class could always afford their own staff to prepare fancy Anglo-French cuisine, the middle class could generally only enjoy such delicacies in hotel restaurants. Mrs. Marshall’s style of cookery paved the way for the “nouveau-riche middle-class ladies” to obtain training, cookbooks, and the necessary gadgets to produce “High-Class Cookery” at home. Marketing to this new audience gave her a niche which was “neither the solid, if somewhat mundane thoroughness of Mrs. Beeton, nor the comprehensive professional excellence of Francatelli or Garret.” Had this article been written in the ‘40s or ‘50s, I might be able to understand his spiteful mentality toward the lower and middle classes. But Mr. Brears wrote this in the ‘90s! I’m sorry British people, but it no longer takes wealth nor pedigree to make a woman a lady. However, after Mr. Brears clears his pen of venom for the “nouveau-riche middle-class ladies,” he does come to a well stated and thought out conclusion as to why he feels that Mrs. Marshall has been lost to oblivion. Once again, I will refrain from spoiling the climatic ending.
Finally the fourth lecture is written by Peter Barham, an obvious scientist, about the realities of using liquefied gas as a method of making ice creams directly at the table, an idea which Mrs. Marshall presented in 1901. Although this is an entertaining example of late Victorian “brash and flash,” Mrs. Marshall did have a conceptually sound idea, even if neither she nor her readers could actually do such a trick, as liquefied gas was definitely not available to the home cook at the change of the century.
The recipes for ice cream in the facsimile The Book of Ices range from very straight forward custard ice creams, through ice creams made with fruits and jams, all the way to savory ice cream productions including “Iced Spinach à la Crème.” Although many of the recipes are familiar to anybody who’s made ice cream before, I especially like that she has four recipes for “Custard for Cream Ices: 1 – Very Rich, 2 – Ordinary, 3 – Common, and 4 – Cheap.” That definitely makes me want to make the fourth one! The other very fun aspects of the book are that the original color prints of ice cream grosse pieces have been authentically reproduced along with the highly detailed woodcut illustrations of various products sold by Mrs. Marshall including the “Moulds for Ice Puddings.” Another food historian Ivan Day has reproduced some of her ices in their original moulds. Examples can be seen at his website Historic Food at http://www.historicfood.com/ices.htm. I definitely recommend a visit, and I think I’m going to have to try to reproduce at least one or two of her masterpieces.
This was a fun little book to read. It is short with lots of fun Victorian pictures and although it was rather dryly written, the commentary was at times quite entertaining. If you are into Victorian era food, especially ice creams, I would definitely recommend this book, as it also gives some insight to the aspirations of the period. But if you are just looking for an ice cream book that will work well with modern culinary equipment, I would pass this book up, as she uses many dated measuring techniques, such as “teacupful,” some odd ingredients that would be rather hard to procure, and her moulds are only available at elevated antique prices.