Mar 28, 2009

Ice Cream In The Family

In my last post I mentioned an ice cream making family business that has been in operation for over 100 years - Luchini's homemade ice cream in the English Lake District. That is just one example of many families around the world whose passion for making their own ice cream has been passed on from generation to generation.

Another way in which I have come across a family tradition connected with ice cream is when I have read about famous people who seem proud to mention their family having had an ice cream business or operating an ice cream truck. Two such people whom I've written about before in a Blog Of Ice Cream are:

1. Ronnie O'Sullivan - last autumn I had just read the autobiography of this snooker genius and in the book I was struck by a photograph of him as a young boy sat on the bonnet of an ice cream truck which was run by his family.

2. Anthony Minghella the Oscar winning movie director who sadly died last year was from a family with a long established ice cream business.

Read about both of these in my Tradition of the Ice Cream Man post.

This week it was the anniversary of the death of a famous British comedian, Tommy Cooper, who sadly died on stage during a performance 25 years ago. Amongst the press, tv and radio tributes to him and to his life, I picked up on a point that was mentioned more than once - about ice cream. Apparently, Tommy's parents used to operate an ice cream van, selling ice cream to the public at fairgrounds; Tommy also claimed he would sometimes even help sell ice cream from one of the windows of their house. Thankfully, Tommy did not take up a career as an ice cream salesman, for whilst he would probably have made a success of it, I believe he made the world a far better place by allowing us to share in his natural, comic genius.

I must share with you one of his best loved jokes which involved ice cream and a Knickerbocker Glory ....

So I went down my local ice cream shop, and said:
"I want to buy an ice-cream."
"Hundreds & thousands?" said the ice cream man
"We'll start with one." I said
"Knickerbocker Glory?"said the ice cream man
"Well, I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes."

The ice cream world's loss was truly the real world's gain. Thank you Tommy Cooper.

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Mar 22, 2009

Staying Small In The Ice Cream Business

Now I don't often write about commercial ice cream companies but today I'm going to. No, I'm not about to do any promotion or advertising for any of them in case you're thinking that! This is a little different and I hope you will agree with my conclusion.

At a time of recession, many people's minds are focused on the potential for business to stay alive. For the past few years, however, it has been the opposite - seemingly everyone focusing on the potential for business growth. Of course, in the last decade or so many small companies have grown large, some even into corporate giants but that does not tend to happen in the ice cream sector. Why is it that? Many small ice cream companies stay small - do they choose that or is it inherent in the nature of the business?

I was chatting recently with someone who runs a b&b in Carlisle close to the English Lake District and Scottish borders and we started to talk about the number of small ice cream companies in their area. Being a predominantly dairy farming area it would seem only natural that ice cream is made here and that certainly seems to be the case with a great "cottage industry" based around ice cream including ice cream parlors and tea shops catering for the many tourists that flock to the English Lakes each year. So why are there no large ice cream companies in the area?

I don't have the answer .... only a few thoughts:

  • Perhaps ice cream as a busines is just not scaleable - it must be difficult to maintain the quality yet retain the uniqueness above a certain level.

  • Perhaps each dairy farm has a limit to the dairy produce it can provide and the owners have no desire to expand.

  • Perhaps the cost of buying extra equipment to expand is prohibitive.

The above are what the business guru Michael Porter would call "barriers to entry". It think there's an important point here though - perhaps we are actually better off for these flaws in the way the economics of it all works.

Personally, I prefer the idea of staying small when it comes to ice cream - that way we can enjoy the benefits of a broad range of companies whose ice cream making is distinctive in its own way.

I was lucky enough to visit an ice cream parlor in Keswick called Luchini's and the experience backed up my point perfectly. A family run business making delicious homemade ice cream since 1901 - over a 100 years! A passion for ice cream that has lasted from generation to generation. Now that's something special worth preserving.

I hope to write about Luchini's again shortly and in more detail, sharing with you some of the super ice cream photographs I took.

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Mar 8, 2009

Ice Cream Poke & Ice Cream Slider

Today I heard two expressions relating to ice cream that I had NEVER heard before - ice cream poke and ice cream slider.

My family and I were visiting some dear friends (whose hospitality is always wonderful) and amongst our many topics of conversation - eg. the history of the Titanic, big band jazz, making ceramics and the technology of acoustics - we started talking about ice cream.

Now these friends know about my passion for ice cream and indeed I helped them get an electric ice cream maker of their own which they use regularly to try out my ice cream recipes. So you would think that having discussed ice cream with them before, there could be no way of them using terms completely unfamiliar to me ... but they did. You see Don was born in Belfast (which I pronounce as "bellfast" but he insists should be said as "belfarst") and on recalling childhood memories of ice cream he suddenly referred to ice cream pokes and ice cream sliders.

The quizzical expression on my face must have said it all so he kindly explained ....

ice cream poke = ice cream cone

ice cream slider = ice cream sandwich (using wafers)

Having returned home, I had to look this up! Apparently, these expressions are used throughout Ireland and also parts of Scotland. The ice cream poke expression interested me most and after a little digging what I discovered made perfect sense. I had heard the expression "a pig in a poke" before but never stopped to think about it. Apparently, one meaning of the word 'poke' is a sack or bag - a definition dating back over 600 years to medieval England! So it's totally logical to use the word to describe a cone for holding ice cream.

Great to have an English lesson from an Irishman!

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