Some say the best time to serve up ice cream is in the heat of the summer.
Personally, I think the best time to serve up ice cream is with a chunk of chocolate cake, a fudgy brownie, a slice of sweet/tart apple pie, a mound of sticky toffee pudding, a pile of pancakes or simply in a sundae glass layered with hot caramel sauce, whipped cream, chopped nuts and brownie bits, if you must.
Americans are big on ice cream. New York City chef Sam Mason concocts quirky recipes like Banana-Cocoa Ravioli with mustard ice cream and coffee soil. Ice cream alchemists at Lulu and Mooky’s, also based in NYC, create ice cream made-to-measure à la Heston Blumenthal using liquid nitrogen. You create your own flavour blend from the fifty or so choices they have on display, and they cryogenically mix it before your very eyes.
Cold Stone Creamery (from the USA but expanding internationally) will give you an 'ultimate ice cream experience'. They offer a display counter heaving with chopped-up chocolate and candy along with healthy stuff like fruit and nuts. So how does it work? First you stand there mesmerised by all the possible combinations. Then, prompted by the assistant and queue hecklers, you choose your desired ingredients which are mixed into a waiting dollop of freshly made ice cream. (There’s a blackboard of ideas if you have no imagination.) It’s knocked into shape with two wooden paddles on a marble slab and deposited into either a cup or a monster plain or chocolate-coated cone. I never hold back on these 'experience' occasions, so into the chocolate-dipped, waffle-cone basket mine went…with a bit of topping (because toppings always add mystery and intrigue). Cold Stone has been one of my 'ultimate' ice cream experiences to date.
But it’s not so ultimate as the most expensive ice cream in the world. I’d like to try this one! $1000 buys you the Golden Opulence Sundae. Created by Serendipity3 restaurant, again in New York. They describe it as: “Five scoops of the richest Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla and covered in 23K edible gold leaf, the sundae is drizzled with the world’s most expensive chocolate, Amedei Porceleana, and covered with chunks of rare Chuao chocolate, which is from cocoa beans harvested by the Caribbean Sea on Venezuela’s coast. The masterpiece is suffused with exotic candied fruits from Paris, gold dragets, truffles and Marzipan Cherries. It is topped with a tiny glass bowl of Grand Passion Caviar, an exclusive dessert caviar, made of salt-free American Golden caviar, known for its sparkling golden color. It’s sweetened and infused with fresh passion fruit, orange and Armagnac”. I couldn’t have described it better myself.
If you want something that appeals to your softer side, then Mr Whippy’s your man (or should I say van). Ice cream vans were in their prime in the '60s and '70s attracting kids (and adults) like beacons. I fondly remember those days; it was a Sunday afternoon tradition in my neck of the woods. Mr Whippy would announce his arrival with a repertoire of jingles - spigots primed and squirty juice bottles at the ready. We’d run inside frantically searching for some small change or better still, an adult with a wallet, and sprint outdoors to catch Toni and his van before he drove off. If we were too slow, no worries - we had built-in Mr Whippy Sat-Nav, so we would head him off and wave him down.
But there can be a darker side to these soft-serve whippy machines on wheels. How many remember the Glasgow ice cream van wars of the ‘80s? Due to the fair-weather nature of the business and unpredictable sales, fierce rivalry can break out, and these mobile food units are very territorial. The “Serious Chimes Squad” had to be bought in to deal with the Glasgow lot - I kid you not. And here’s an interesting fact: Margaret Thatcher helped invent the chemical process that produces Mr Whippy ice cream - bet our current PM can’t top that.
I’ve tried making ice cream from scratch, and I had an ice cream maker once, but to be honest, it smacks of making homemade yoghurt. And there’s such a good choice at the local farm shops, supermarkets and delis, so why bother? Ice cream has been around for centuries in one form or another and has evolved over time to become the simple - or decadent - frozen, muchploved dessert it is today. Not bad for something that started off life as mountain-top snow.
And if you really want to know when the best time is to serve ice cream, it’s anytime, any place, anywhere, all year round.