Catholic Tastes Alice Thomas Ellis
CHARLES PIERCE described the conclusion of a Victorian dinner party as follows: "whilst the dessert is being placed on the table, the appropriate plates at hand are laid before each guest, and if ice is to be served, the ice plate is put on the dessert one, having at the time a doyley between them, accompanied by a dessert knife, fork, and spoon." Each guest should have at least two or three glasses of claret, port, and sherry and there had to be jugs of iced water with tumblers "here and there". Then there had to be crystal dishes containing broken Wenham Lake ice, spoons, grape scissors, sugar vases with their ladles "and if there are walnuts and nuts in the dessert, then put in also nut crackers and salt-cellars." If there were ices to serve, commence by offering them to the ladies and if there were several sorts "although partaken in small quantities" each guest was invited to try them at the same time, with ice wafers. Any of the following wines may be offered, viz Almsey, Frontignac, Setubal, Constantia, Alicante, Lunel, Pacaret, Cyprus, Imperial Tokay, or other sweet wines. "Now hand the compotes, two by two, next the fruit, such as nectarines, peaches, pines or grapes." Melons should be cut in quarters "from pole to pole". Pines (these were grown in hot houses and were much admired. (Becky Sharp longed above everything to taste one) should be taken off the table and cut at the side table in slices about double the thickness of a crown piece, commencing at the stalk end. This was so the pineapple could be made to stand up. "And now," adds Pierce with a sudden unexpected concession to economy, "the confectioner could turn it into compote if it be not eaten." (1 once knew a man whose cook used to scrape all the insides out of a pineapple, mix it with rum, cream and sugar and then put it back in the rind. This is hard work but he was a rich man; his dining room was hung with rather nasty Cezannes) Mrs A B Marshall, writing a little later, was in agreement with the overall arrangements: "Ices, sweetmeats of all kinds, fruit of all sorts, fresh and crystallised, biscuits both sweet and plain, and last, but not least, olives, all form part of the modern dessert, and nothing but want of attention and care can explain a failure in this part of the dinner. Fruit, flowers and foliage must be the best of their kind." She had smartly cashed in on the passion for ice and her own brand of "ice caves" and freezers are advertised in her book while her refrigerators were painted brown and white with brass and "Japanned" fittings. She writes that ices, which were once a luxury reserved for the wealthy, were "now in most towns the delights of street drabs". Drabs was the non-PC term for scruffy little boys "who can by any means raise the copper requisite for their purchase". Immigrant Italians brought icecream making to a fine art and some of the best are now to be found in Beddgelert in the wilds of Snowdonia. In Camden Town you need only send a runner down to Marine Ices at the bottom of the hill.