Mechanical Ice Cream Making in British Homes, 1844-1914
My thesis questions if mechanical ice cream makers could fully replace craft skills in the making of ices in British homes, by focusing on four case studies that were invented or patented during the broad period 1844-1914. On the broadest level, the advertising 'propaganda' that accompanied these machines claimed that they allowed inexperienced cooks, housekeepers or mistresses to successfully make ice cream – which was considered a complicated culinary achievement – by simply turning a handle. Mechanical ice cream makers could supposedly replace the complex handicraft ice cream making method that involved a wooden pail, a pewter freezing pot and a spaddle. Yet cookery books from the turn of the twentieth century reveal a juxtaposition of both mechanical and 'manual' ice cream making methods, and always advised the use of the latter over the former.
Instructions on how to make water or cream ices in the most foolproof manner may have proliferated in printed form, but the need to interpret tacit information about the making process left some amateur cooks feeling alienated and less likely to succeed in the kitchen. Texture, above all, was the measure of quality in a good ice cream with the words uniformity and homogeneity being used the most frequently to describe it. Mechanisation, it was claimed, was deemed superior to the pewter pot method because it allowed for a continuous, uninterrupted churning process that resulted in a finer, more uniformly frozen ice cream.
Despite these promises, close analysis of the instructions and recipes that accompanied both manual and mechanical ice-cream-making methods reveals that only one distinct part of the ice cream making process was mechanised. Other vital steps, like preparing ingredients, still had to be done before the machines were put into use. Moreover, the recipes demonstrate that the smooth texture emphasised by the 'votaries' of ice cream was already formed during these stages. Debates concerning the use of mechanical implements let us imagine how the objects in question were perceived. Gastronomical 'snobs' dictated that cookery was not a mechanical process, and that following fixed rules went against the grain of cookery.
Further evidence underlines that serving ice cream at dinner parties was coded with social aspiration and culinary pretension, and also had the power of reflecting the moral values of a host or hostess. However, making ice cream at home to serve to guests came with its own risks, even when mechanisation was involved. This thesis thus concludes that even when using machines, inexperienced cooks still had to know what to aim for. Sensory involvement and skilled judgment could not be replaced by cranking a handle because they did not embody hard-to-grasp components such as taste. Ultimately, these remained ingredients central to the making of ices in the home which these machines failed to deliver.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2014
Over the past year, I have immersed myself in the academic realms of food and design history. My research interests span a wide variety of topics, some of which have been explored on my co-edited blog 'The Cabinet of Culinary Curiosities' on Unmaking Things. I hope to employ my original and creative approach to academic study in a wide range of industries upon graduating.
- BA (Hons) English Studies with Arts Management and Administration, Oxford Brookes University
- Co-editor, The Cabinet of Culinary Curiosities, Unmaking Things; Research assistant, Word and Image Department, Victoria and Albert Museum; Project assistant and coordinator, Ministère de la Culture, Luxembourg
- V&A Travel Fund, 2013