By Danielle Aloia. Special Projects Librarian
This August, for most of us, ice is a second thought: easily obtained for cooling drinks and chilling food, and usually only a few steps away. An 1844 title in our collections offers an intriguing snapshot of a time when this was not always the case.
In 1844, a Londoner with a shop on Regent Street and an inventive mind published The Ice Book: Being a Compendious and Concise History of Everything Connected with Ice. His name was Thomas Masters. In this publication, Masters enumerates the practical uses–both culinary and medical– of his own patented ice machine. In his introduction, Masters describes his obsession with the process of freezing:
The transformations narrated in the “Arabian Nights,” those gorgeous repositories of Eastern legendary lore, are not more marvelous or more speedy than the change of a liquid body to a block of solid ice.1
During the course of The Ice Book, Masters introduces his invention and its applications and takes readers on a whirlwind tour of ice through space and time. Along the way, he also supplies some delectable frozen recipes–sign us up for the maraschino ice cream, the nectar ice and the punch a la Victoria, stat.
Masters reports that the Greeks and Romans were known to use snow from the surrounding mountains to cool their wine.2 Nero’s cooks flavored snow with “honey, juices, and pulp of fruits,” creating a precursor to the flavored ice of today, and eventually ice cream.3
Masters also describes Indian methods of making artificial ice, reporting that during the winter months, ice was created by filling rows of small earthen pans with boiled water, which was then cooled and left overnight. The thin ice was gathered up, thrown in a pit that was lined with straw and layered with blankets, and pressed into a solid mass. The pit was closed up with straw, blankets and a thatched roof.
Masters devotes a significant portion of his narrative to the promotion of his portable “patent freezing machine.” In his introduction he writes:
The preparation of one of the most delectable refections known to this advanced era of modern culinary civilization, has been hitherto left to the experienced confectioner, on whose skill, not always within reach, depended the supply. By attending to the instructions contained in the following pages, ices may now be procured from the machine within five minutes.4
A review of the book in The Patent Journal and Inventors’ Magazine offers this glowing endorsement of The Ice Book:
The specification of Mr. Masters’ patent appeared in #53 of our journal…it will be seen that he invented a number of very ingenious apparatus, by means of which, the luxury of cold liquors, &c. may be the most readily supplied; his Ice safes and well are excellent, and his ready mode of freezing, astonishing. It is really a disgrace to buttermen and other shopkeepers to vend their edibles in the nasty state they frequently do, and the public should demand the use by tradesmen of these safes…5
The benefits of Masters’ machine were not limited to food and drink preparation. Ice was used in medicine to relieve headaches, fever, hemorrhaging, and, believe it or not, symptoms of rabies.6 Masters includes testimonials from MDs. One Dr. John Ryan writes that Masters’ machine will “enable [doctors] at all seasons, whether in the crowded fever wards of the hospital, or in private practice, to obtain for the patient a necessary adjunct to medical treatment.”7
The machine had various interchangeable parts and could be setup for private use to make blocks of ice, flavored ice and ice cream, and to cool wine and drinks. In plate 6 below, Figures 1-3 depict the special churns needed to get the fineness and smoothness necessary to keep the flavored ice or ice cream from separating; “a proper beating-up, a process which never can be accomplished by the hand.”8 Figures 4-5, depict separate ice preserving containers for game, fish, butter, etc. Figures 6-8, depict the cold storage for beverages, such as wine and beer.
Below, we’ve included a few tantalizing recipes from the book. Masters supplies instructions for making plain and flavored ice creams:
Other recipes instruct on making flavored ices.
We found this errata slip laid in amusing:
Another peculiar aspect of this work is the Appendix. Masters delights in supplying real-life anecdotes about ice. Among the highlights are an ice storm in 1672 that destroyed numerous trees; an ice market in 19th-century St. Petersburg containing the bodies of thousands of frozen animals, captured inside ice; and in that same city, the Ice Palace of St. Petersburg built near the banks of the River Neva in 1739, which began to give way under its own weight before the last ice blocks were placed.9 We’ll be returning to this book again for these fascinating stories, and for the recipes within…particularly on hot summer days.
1. Masters, Thomas. The Ice Book. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1844.
2. Masters, 6.
3. National Dairy Council. Ice Cream through the Years. Chicago: National Dairy Council, 1946.
4. Masters, x.
5. “Thomas Masters’ Ice Book: The Ice Book: Being a Compendious and Concise History of Everything Connected with Ice.” Patent Journal and Inventors’ Magazine, June 5, 1847, accessed online.
6. Masters, pp. 180-187.
7. Masters, pp. 185-187.
8. Masters, pp. 194-196.
9. Masters, pp. 134-146.