Vanilla, strawberry or shark's fin?

It's the dripping and leaking and mess that makes an ice-cream cone worth having
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The Independent Online

A hundred years ago Graham Greene and Marlene Dietrich were born, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce started making cars, Peter Pan had its London premier, Chekhov died and the ice-cream cornet was invented. In the circumstances, I was astonished that the coach party restaurant, café and gift shop, hard by Loch Lomond, that we always stop at on our annual summer migration to the Highlands, did not appear to be registering this ground-breaking centenary.

A hundred years ago Graham Greene and Marlene Dietrich were born, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce started making cars, Peter Pan had its London premier, Chekhov died and the ice-cream cornet was invented. In the circumstances, I was astonished that the coach party restaurant, café and gift shop, hard by Loch Lomond, that we always stop at on our annual summer migration to the Highlands, did not appear to be registering this ground-breaking centenary.

Months before the total eclipse a few summers back, the same café was successfully promoting something called the All-Day Eclipse Breakfast consisting of the usual greasy components with a fried egg on a bap in the middle, sunny side up and nine-tenths of the yoke hidden, or even eclipsed, by a slice of black pudding. "It's our most popular line especially with Saga holiday tours from the Midlands," Lesley behind the counter advised. "We just can't make enough of them."

Disentangling myself from the usual detritus of long-distance car travel, I tried to imagine what new extravaganza Lesley might have dreamed up for the great ice-cream cornet centenary. I was confident that she would leave no cone unturned in her pursuit of excellence. Alas, Lesley wasn't there. The young woman from Moldavia possibly or Moravia or Bohemia or Silesia - one of those places that disappeared at more or less the same time as the ice-cream cone was being invented but has since reappeared and will probably be competing in next year's Eurovision Song Contest - had taken her place. There were a couple of new flavours since our last visit, raspberry shortbread and heather honey and whisky ice cream, but nothing to compare with the marketing genius of the All-Day Eclipse Breakfast.

The trouble with ice creams these days is they have become too complicated. Someone on the radio recentlywas talking about the new craze in Japan for savoury ice creams flavoured with shark's fin, crab claws and large lumps of tuna. I saw a recipe in one of those glossy food supplements for sardines-on-toast ice cream. I thought of giving it a whirl, back in the old days when we went in for things called dinner parties and made our own taramasalata. But I changed my mind when my youngest child announced that the very thought of it made him want to throw up.

One of my more sophisticated friends who knows how to distress furniture and will drive a hundred miles to buy a discontinued shade of lipstick called Black Honey (Madonna uses it) came for lunch the other day carrying what looked like a desktop tumble dryer. It was a genuine Italian ice-cream maker, she explained, in which she would make perfect lemon sorbet. I said doubtfully that I didn't think it would fit in the fridge, let alone the freezer compartment, but Sarah said it was an independent machine with its own power supply. Having squeezed 24 lemons and whipped up several gallons of double cream with several dozen eggs, she poured the mixture in, switched on and hey presto! an hour later, we were swimming in the damn stuff. I'm not criticising, it was delicious. We all had seconds and thirds and there was still enough left to feed the heavenly host. It only worked with a full load, said Sarah.

At boarding school I remember there was a distinct ice-cream pecking order. Juniors got straightforward vanilla, seniors strawberry, prefects chocolate and teachers a striped mixture called tutti frutti with bits in it. My best student holiday job was in an ice-cream parlour on the roof of a posh department store in Guildford called Harvey's. The Italian chef taught me how to make Snowbird Sundaes, knickerbocker glories in glasses as tall as spaghetti jars and triple-decker ice-cream cornets with three scoops of goo carefully balanced on top of each other and two long chocolate flakes sticking out of the top like rabbit's ears. The only problem was that it rained all summer and nobody came to my parlour, so I quietly ate my way through the contents of the freezer and wound up looking like Mr Blobby.

I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies. It didn't have a centenary special, but at least our pit stop in the Highlands still sells old-fashioned cornets. Most people prefer tubs these days because they're easier, but it's the licking and dripping and leaking and spilling and general mess you get from an ice-cream cone that makes it worth having.

I'd better end with Joyce Grenfell's Nanny's immortal line: "Don't wipe your ice cream on that man's coat, George. You'll make it all hairy.''

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