Wednesday 11 December 2013

Mrs Agnes Marshall's Cucumber Ice Creams

Agnes Marshall's Parisian Cucumber Cream served on a base of nougat paste and pistachios glazed with boiled sugar. The highly realistic cucunber is flavoured with finely chopped angelica, pistachios and maraschino or noyeau.
For many years a favourite dish of mine has been a 'ragoo of cucumbers', a lightly cooked cucumber stew, a variety of recipes for which are included in most English cookery books of the eighteenth century. I frequently serve it to guests who attend my courses. All appear to enjoy it immensely, but often express surprise that the English once had a variety of cooked cucumber dishes. Nowadays, cucumber is rarely used in this country outside a few Michelin starred restaurants other than as a raw salad ingredient. So they are even more surprised when I explain that cucumbers in Georgian England were often preserved in sugar syrup as a 'wet' sweetmeat for the dessert course. In the late Victorian period they were even used to flavour ice creams and sorbets. Some ice cream makers took this to extreme lengths, even moulding their cucumber flavoured ices into the form of trompe l'oeil cucumbers, so realistic that they were barely discernable from the real thing.

This recipe is one of a number for cucumber ices in Agnes Berthe Marshall, Fancy Ices (London nd 1890s)
Mrs Agnes Berthe Marshall, the great entrepreneurial London based cookery teacher of the late Victorian period, not only offered a number of cucumber ice cream recipes in her books, like the one above for Parisian Cucumber Cream, but also sold life size cucumber moulds in her showroom in Mortimer Street. I recently acquired one of these moulds and have 'test driven' it a few times in the process of replicating some of her cucumber ice recipes.

Advertisement page of ice cream moulds from Agnes Berthe Marshall, The Book of Ices ILondon: 1885)
A page from a Harton and Son ice cream mould catalogue (second half of the nineteenth century). Harton was an important London pewterer who specialised in making novelty ice cream moulds. Among the ice creams illustrated on this page is a cucumber mould.
My 1890s pewter cucumber ice cream mould has distinctive hinges which tells me that was made by Harton and Son
The mould is in two hinged halves fixed together with steel pins
The long pin is left in prior to the mould being filled with semi-frozen ice cream
The Parisian Cucumber Cream is paddled into the two separate halvess of the mould with the back of a spoon
When they are both full, the two halves of the mould are closed tightly together, the pins inserted and any excess ice cream wiped off. The seams of the mould are then sealed with butter or lard to stop the ingress of any saline solution, and the mould wrapped in brown paper. This little 'parcel' is then plunged into a bucket of ice and salt and left to freeze for about three hours. The finished ice is removed from the mould by dipping it into cold water for about 11 seconds. The brown paper stops pieces of  ice from freezing onto the mould. 
Another of Mrs Marshall's recipes from Fancy Ices. Though this is moulded into the form of a cucumber it contains no cucumber at all.

A popular small  mould used as a garnishing ice was in the form of a pickled cucumber or gherkin. An ice made from such a mould is one of the garnishing ices here embellishing this large water ice in the form of a beehive.

This, the earliest image of a pewter cucumber ice cream mould appeared in Joseph Gilliers, Le Cannameliste français (Nancy: 1751). It is of course a cornichon or gherkin. 
The same 'joke' mould was still being used in the late Victorian period
Mrs Marshall also gives a simple cucumber ice cream recipe in The Book of Ices (London: 1885) that does not require moulding.  
In Fancy Ices she also gives a recipe for a Cucumber Sorbet designed to be served in cups made of ice. In her day the term sorbet had a different meaning to now. It was a non-dairy or water ice, usually flavoured with some kind of fruit. However, Victorian recipes always included an alcoholic element, in this case cognac and kirsch. They evolved from the frozen punches and sherbets of the Georgian period, which were served in the early stages of a dinner.
A mould for making cups out of ice of the kind mentioned in the above cucumber sorbet recipe. Mrs Marshall sold moulds of this kind from her shop in Mortimer Street


  1. May I post this recipe for stewed cucumbers that you had on the "Hungry for the Past" TV program?
    Cucumbers Stewed
    1 cucumber
    1 oz / 30g butter
    1 dessertspoon / 25g plain flour
    ½ a pint / 8 fl oz / 300 ml stock
    1 pinch of salt
    ½ teaspoon / 6g powdered mace
    ½ teaspoon / 6g ground black pepper
    1. Peel the cucumbers and slice them into thin rounds.
    2. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and gently fry the cucumber slices for about 10 minutes, stirring with care so they do not break up. When they become soft, stir in the flour, salt and spices and cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
    3. Pour in the stock and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    Serve with duck or game.
    Adapted from The Art of Cookery by Elizabeth Taylor of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1769