I'm back at the Ice Cream Farm at Morwick in Northumberland, on holiday with the kids. It may have been snowing yesterday, blown off the beach by gusts of white horses this morning; but we British are made of sterner stuff and if we're on holiday then we've got to have an ice cream out of doors or it really isn't a holiday.
Having petted the baby calves and made the difficult decision of choosing, we sit outside in the cold air and sunshine and eat. I have chosen their latest offering called 'Jersey', which is a very plain ice cream made with whole Jersey milk from their cows. There are so many vanillas around these days (though a recent price-hike in the cost of vanilla may put a hold on that) - and very good many of them are,too. But here was something very different: plain, creamy...and something else....a memory brought back from a lakeland childhood of the 60's and early 70's. Hartley's Ice cream. Sitting on a wall, dangling my legs with a bullet-like cornet of white with a navel of red sauce. One flavour only, bought from the back of the dairy in Egremont, and eaten on top of a wall in the sunshine of endless summer days.
We often hear about the power of smell to evoke memories from our past, but taste is so closely linked. And memory fans out so that we remember the sights and sounds on a particular day, as we saw it at child level; the texture of the food and the way we ate it - turning it round and round or imprinting a white moustache of ice cream across our upper lip. We are, like the children in Narnia, instantly back in a land we inhabited maybe decades ago or almost yesterday. There is something lovely about the hold of memory attached to the mundane. If the brain can only store so much in any particular order, then this ability to cross-reference is refreshing because of the element of suprise and almost total recall.
Older people like to sit with their photos and memories and reminisce. Perhaps the move to blander nursery fare is a bid to recapture memories of their youth and simpler times. I like to think that this is what went on in the House of Commons when the call went out for nursery puddings a while back.
Back at mum's i am searching through her recipe books for a plain ice cream. At home i have a copy of Robin Weir and Caroline Liddell's 'Ices, the definitive guide', which must be about twenty years old, i would guess. In those days i kept anglo-nubian goats which have the creamiest milk, homogenised naturally. I find the recipe i used to use reproduced in a book called 'Recipes from the Dairy' by the above authors for the National Trust. My children would happily eat goat milk ice cream (and yoghurt) when they would refuse point blank to drink the milk itself.
Also in this book i see French vanilla ice cream and Rich French vanilla ice-cream. These are custard-based ice creams. There is also a recipe for Buttermilk ice-cream which looks interesting, but not one i have ever tried. And there is a recipe for clotted cream ice-cream, which doesn't list vanilla as an ingredient. I think the vanilla acts as a mask to hide the true taste of a plain cream ice-cream. Weir and Liddell say the joy of this ice cream is that the 'Cornish clotted cream takes its flavour from the breed of cow and the time of the year that the cream is made.'
I decide to unearth my ice cream maker from the back of the cupboard and have another go. The flavours you create you will never taste anywhere else - like cinnamon or saffron, or brown bread, or Strawberry and sour cream. But i also remember, with some trepidation, the reason why the ice cream maker is at the back of the cupboard. I don't know whether ice cream makers have changed and improved in the last twenty years - and maybe the really expensive ones never had this problem in the first place - but the basic model, which was a heavy bowl you kept in the freezer and added a lid with a rotating paddle attached, had certain flaws.
Firstly, it tended to seize up almost immediately as the mixture froze instantly to the side of the bowl as you poured it in, paddle or no paddle. Should you get past this initial hurdle, then a keen ear had to be kept to the sound of the rotating rhythm. As soon as the bass note rose and the rhythm become syncopated, it was imperative that you leaped from your seat and caught the ice-cream maker before it twirled round like a ballet dancer and ended up on the floor.
I am prepared to give it a second chance. There is a good chance that it might impel me to look at newer, more reliable versions of this original model. I have never found the stir-every-hour-and-freeze approach makes a texture that i really want to consume. And with ice cream, texture is everything.