Student Museum Musings: Making Ice Cream!

By Karen A., Summer Student

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Who doesn’t love ice cream? That’s a silly question, since I’m pretty sure everyone enjoys some flavour of ice cream.  And since July is National Ice Cream Month, as recognized by The International Ice Cream Association, the museum has dusted off the ice cream maker in prep for Grandpa Henry’s picnic which features old fashioned ice cream making (and taste testing)!

The origins of ice cream date back to the second century B.C.E. although no specific date can be determined for when this tasty treat was invented. It is known that Alexander the Great enjoyed ice and snow flavoured with honey and nectar. Likewise, Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar sent runners into the mountains to gather snow which he then flavoured with fruits and juice. England started making ice cream during the 16th century, along with the Italians and French. But it wasn’t until the mid-17th century that ice cream became available to the general public because of its expensive cost.

In the Victorian period ice cream was made by hand. With the use of wooden buckets which had hand cranks attached, the mixture was then combined together and frozen. It was difficult however as the Victorians didn’t have access to electric freezers or ice cream machines. A lot of the ice used to make the ice cream and to keep it cold, was collected from rivers and ponds in the winter time which was then stored in ice houses.

Lauren & Karen using our Ice Cream maker!

At the museum we now have our own hand crank ice cream maker; fortunately it also comes with a motor attached so we are not stuck hand cranking all the ice cream. This ice cream maker allows us to show visitors how Victorians hand cranked their ice cream, but also lets us make enough ice cream for everyone without getting tired!

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Here are some recipes on how to make Victorian ice cream;

Lemon Fig Ice Cream
1 c. whipping cream
1 c. milk
1 egg, well beaten
Few grains salt
¾ c. sugar
1 c. chopped preserved figs, and juice
Juice 2 lemons

Combine eggs, sugar, salt, figs and juice, lemon juice, and milk. Pour into freezer. Partially freeze. Carefully fold in whipped cream. Continue freezing until firm. 8 servings.


Lemon Ice
2 c. water
1 c. sugar
Few grains salt
6 tbsp. lemon juice

Combine water, sugar, and salt. Heat to boiling. Boil 5 minutes. Cool. Add lemon juice. Freeze. 4 servings.

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Making the Christmas Pudding

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

For many, many years, our holiday interpretation of Henry House has included the making of the Christmas Pudding, a tradition of the Victorians, and one that has continued for many people to this day.  My grandmother every year makes a Christmas Pudding and insists we sing ‘Now bring us some figgy pudding’ as it is carried through to the dinner table, a brilliantly blue flame encircling the rich pudding.

Making the Christmas Pudding
Making the Christmas Pudding

In Henry House, the recipe we use appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator in 1860, Mrs. Wagstaff’s Christmas Pudding.  It is a fairly standard pudding recipe, calling for flour, bread crumbs, spices, eggs, milk, sugar, candied citrus peel (or ‘sweetmeats’), raisins, currants, and suet.  What exactly is suet?  Well, it’s raw beef fat… doesn’t that sound absolutely delicious in your Christmas dessert?!

The plum pudding being stirred together
The plum pudding being stirred together

This year, we decided to give this recipe a try.  The recipe calls for boiling the pudding for 4 hours; we have very limited kitchen capabilities at the Museum, but we can boil water!  We mixed the ingredients together and tied it in a cheesecloth.  Trick we picked up after making it a number of times: tie the cheesecloth TIGHTLY around the pudding, otherwise it will not keep its shape when boiling.  As well, the recipe calls for boiling for 4 hours, then boiling again for another 6.  I found that a lot of the fruit flavour was lost on that second boil.  Boiling it for 4 hours was sufficient.

Christmas Pudding, anyone?
Christmas Pudding, anyone?

So, after stirring and boiling, how did the Plum Pudding turn out?  It was surprisingly raisin-y and currant-y.  Those were the dominant flavours that came through.  We did not have our pudding sit and ‘get drunk’ in brandy, as most puddings do in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  It is the alcohol that burns off when the pudding is set on fire, and the alcohol, of course, brings new flavours to the pudding which ours didn’t have.  We also found out that boiling something which contains suet brought, well, a whole new sensory experience to this traditional dessert.  It was not one that is easy on the nose…  Ultimately, it looked good, and tasted good and we were excited and proud to say that we were able to successfully bring a recipe from 1860 to life in 2013!

“Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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