Food and Drink: Gastropod

NATIONAL Ice-Cream Week starts on Monday, reminding the Gastropod that, although it seems like ages ago, it is only a couple of years since Haagen-Dazs was unknown here and Mars ice-cream bars had not been invented. Back then, ice-cream was most often a cold confection of bright yellow vegetable fat and whipped air that weighed next to nothing and tasted of very little. The Gastropod recalls scouring supermarkets in search of a tub of Loseley's, one of the first 'premium' ice-creams (meaning it is made with real cream, not butter) to appear, and remains a devoted fan of its 'Acacia Honey & Stem Ginger' variety.

Now, though, the ice-cream market has segmented with the creation of Gourmet and Confectionary versions, and one can hardly walk into the local convenience store without being tempted to try the latest Haagen-Dazs flavour (macadamia nut brittle; it is good, but not as good as pra-

lines 'n' cream) or reinvented chocolate bar (Milky Bar, backed by an advertising campaign featuring the return of the Kid). According to the Ice Cream Alliance, a trade association representing some 750 smaller ice-cream manufacturers which is promoting National Ice Cream Week, the British consume more ice-cream than the Italians, and three-quarters of us think of ice-cream as a basic food (although the VAT collector considers it a luxury).

PERHAPS the next phase is represented by an upmarket ice-cream parlour, Violets & Creme, opened less than a month ago in Henley-on-Thames by the beauteous Alexandra Leiderby, once a runner-up in the Miss Universe contest. Violets & Creme reminds one of gentler times, with wood panelling and black and white chequered floor, and serves proper milk shakes, superb sorbets and stupefying sundaes, including what is claimed to be the biggest banana split in Britain. Already the place is so successful that plans are afoot to franchise it across the Home Counties.

MAKING your own ice-cream is a lengthy process, and the slothful Gastropod would always prefer to slope off to the nearest all-night ice-cream vendor than to mess about with domestic ice-cream machines. However, the 'Pod appreciates that not everyone has a 24-hour ice-cream outlet on their doorstep, that home-made ice-cream often has a better consistency than the store-bought stuff and that it is guaranteed to be free of emulsifiers, stabilisers and other undesirable additives.

Furthermore, home-made ice-cream is so much cheaper that the machine will eventually pay for itself, which is saying something since the most desirable gelaterias (with an integral freezing unit) cost around pounds 250. According to Which? magazine, among the cheaper machines - with a bowl that has to be left in the freezer overnight before you begin - the best buy is the Magimix Le Glacier, the smaller version of which makes a litre of ice-cream and costs about pounds 40.

DOMESTIC ice-cream machines invariably come with a perfunctory instruction leaflet containing a couple of rudimentary recipes, but little information on the complex physics and chemistry of ice-cream making which enables one to judge how much alcohol one can get away with and still get the stuff to set, or how strong the sugar solution needs to be for it to stay scoopable at sub- zero temperatures. It was partly frustration with the limitations of the leaflet that came with their machine, but mostly in the spirit of hedonism, that Caroline Liddell and her partner, Robin Weir, set about writing their book, Ices, The Definitive Guide (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 18.99).

In researching their authoritative tome, the authors discovered no evidence to support the accepted history of ice-cream: that it was introduced to Italy by Marco Polo on his return from the Orient and popularised by Catherine de Medici, who brought her own ice-cream specialists with her to France when she married the Duc d'Orleans in 1533. The Gastropod's personal theory is that the Scandinavians - who, after all, have plenty of ice - must be responsible for its invention. Swedes and Danes consume more ice-cream than anyone else in Europe, the name Haagen-Dazs was invented by an American called Reuben Mattus who thought it sounded Danish, and Violets & Creme is owned and operated by a former Miss Sweden. I rest my case.

ALBERT CLARK is a culinary enfant terrible who was featured in several glossy magazines a few months ago, but reacted to his new-found celebrity by quitting his job and clearing off to California to scoff ice-cream. Now he is back and developing his own range of ice-cream to be launched next year. Mr Clark's idea is to concentrate on English flavours such as rhubarb and custard, apple crumble and raspberries and cream, and would welcome further suggestions from readers.

This may not be as easy as it sounds. When compiling recipes for their book, Robin Weir and Caroline Liddell experimented with Eton Mess, but found the various constituents (raspberries, cream and meringue) froze at different temperatures so they could not get it to set; they also failed to develop an infallible recipe for Christmas pudding ice-cream because of the difficulty of freezing suet. However, the Gastropod has six copies of Ices and half a dozen Le Glacier ice-cream makers to give away to readers who come up with what Mr Clark considers to be the best six flavours, with some indication of how to make them, to complete his range of English ice-creams. Entries should be sent to: The Gastropod, Weekend Features, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB to arrive by 9 August. Standard competition rules apply.

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