They epitomise summer, but amid the raucous chimes and chugging exhaust fumes, the most exotic purchase you could make from a traditional British ice-cream van used to be a tutti frutti lolly.
Now ice-cream crusaders are tempting us with an array of extravagant flavours, with one creating everything from absinthe to extra virgin olive oil, all sold from a vintage van called Ginger.
Claire Kelsey began Ginger’s Comfort Emporium in 2009 when she bought a beaten-up Ford Transit which she renovated before taking to the road the next summer.
Ms Kelsey, 37, has come a long way since then and is now a multiple winner of the British Street Food Awards – an annual celebration of the best al fresco food and drink traders in the country. The regional heats for the BSF Awards – held in association with The Independent on Sunday – are under way, with the final taking place in London in September.
At each of the four heats and at the final, in addition to music and entertainment, the IoS will be hosting an event for festival-goers, bringing together foodie and newsy themes.
Ms Kelsey will be taking part in the Scotland and North heat in Newcastle next weekend, at which she and other finalists will be judged by members of the public. The winners of the regional heats go through to the final where a panel of judges, including IoS editor, Lisa Markwell, select the overall champions in a variety of categories.
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For the traders, who by the nature of their work spend a lot of time alone, the awards are an opportunity to test the market. “I won best dessert category three years running and overall in 2013,” said Ms Kelsey. “You get a good bit of coverage after that so people are more aware of you. Plus it’s great to meet other traders and get some inspiration from what they are doing.”
She now has a professional kitchen as well as the van, so has overheads and bills to pay. “I am hoping to pick up some tips at this year’s awards on how to make the business successful all year round. Ice-cream is still very seasonal. I only ever got into this as a hobby so I didn’t have a long-term strategy. I think maybe comforting desserts is the way to go.”
Following her success with Ginger, Ms Kelsey’s ice-cream is stocked by a number of delis and restaurants around the Manchester area and has a burgeoning fanbase, particularly her salted caramel and peanut butter ice-cream – nicknamed Chorlton Crack because it’s so addictive.
“It wasn’t like that in 2010. That first music festival I did with Ginger was a disaster. Customers kept asking for a Mr Whippy and a 99 flake and I was offering homemade, double cream marmalade on toast flavour. It blew their minds.
“I never started out wanting to make and sell ice-cream. In fact I used to find ice-cream vans a bit creepy when I was little. I didn’t like the fact that they stayed there and you went to them. I want to get out into the world and me and Ginger have certainly seen a lot of it in the past few years – and we hope to see a lot more in the future.”
For tickets to the Newcastle heat, visit britishstreetfood.co.ukReuse content