Our lovely warm spell of weather has meant that lots of visitors are enjoying ice cream and lollipops, and so my blogging thoughts turned to ice and snow. And I remembered that we have an hidden historical gem on Rhododendron Hill, namely the remains of the old ice house.
Repairs were done during last winter and the whole area has been worked on by the gardeners, together with a group of German students tidying up the steps, so access is safer.
The roof had been recycled years ago to provide a topping for the old dairy, a pretty little building waiting for renovation.
Icehouses were an integral part of a large estate with supplies of ice being sourced from ponds and lakes and stored underground with layers of straw or sawdust for insulation. Some ice was even brought to the UK by ship from Scandinavia or as far away as Newfoundland. Prince Albert was said to prefer his ice to come from New England (visions of a large iceberg being towed across the Atlantic).
Before electrical refrigeration became common, cold boxes were used to keep food cool and you can see an example in the old Dairy. A block of ice would be put inside, food stored on the shelves, cool air would circulate and the drainage outlet at the bottom would allow the melt to be directed into a tray underneath.
In this way the primary purpose was for the preservation of dairy produce and meat, but ice could be used for drinks, desserts and the making
of sorbets and ice cream. Mount Stewart’s Still Room has some lovely pewter ice moulds in the shape of fruits that produced spectacular desserts for dinner parties.
Imagine these bombes being opened to reveal a beautiful ice-cream pear or strawberry, perhaps with fruit inside – mmmm Yummy!