I scream, you scream, we all scream for…Salt?

The recipes in My Mother’s Cookbooks for ‘Homemade Ice Cream’ seems an entirely appropriate share at this point in summer. Ice cream is common place today, but for most of it’s history it was limited to the wealthy and powerful.

Douglasfield Road, Northumberland County, New Brunswick c.1905 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site

Exactly, who invented and when iced desserts and ice cream were first invented is unknown, although it is generally accepted to have been early, possibly in Asia. It is likely that the first ‘iced desserts’ were ice mixed with fruit or fruit juices. Through the centuries a number of countries became associated with iced treats, Italy for example became associated with a lower fat iced treat, Gelato1.

Iced treats appeared regularly through history, but would remain reserved for the wealthy and powerful until two key discoveries permitted ice cream to become the widespread treat of today.

Russell home in Chatham NB – Enterprising women made and sold ice cream from this location c. 1890.

Clara R. Walls was born 1893 and grew up in Blackville, NB. Clara’s father Benjamin and her Stepmother Laura Lebans Walls owned a small farm which supplemented Ben’s wages from his work in the local saw mill. Clara’s Walls family arrived from Invernesshire Scotland in the late 18th century with the Davidson Settlers, most including the Walls family were adherents of Church of Scotland2 (Presbyterian).

The Grant family home on Denoon street Pictou, NS Photo courtesy of members of Ancestry.ca

Myrtle Grant Walls born 1897 in Pictou, Pictou county, NS grew up heart of Scottish immigration in Nova Scotia3. Myrtle’s Grant family settled first in Scotch Hill, Pictou County, sustaining themselves through farming and coal mining. Myrtle’s Father John Smith Grant was a merchant and the family like the Walls family were stalwarts of the local Presbyterian Church.

A Miramichi Valley farm c.1900 Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

Of course the reason ice cream remained the preview of the rich and powerful so long had to do with limited access to required ingredients and tools. Since refrigeration was not available until after World War two, the supply of year round ice, became a limiting factor one which required planning and investment.

Ice Harvest on the Miramichi River c. 1930s Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.

The harvest, storage and distribution of natural ice began in the first quarter of the 19th century, with the advent of ice houses built for its storage. Once the household ice chest 4 was developed, about 1802, the technology of ice began transforming food, from dried, salted, and smoked to fresh, chilled. Cold drinks and desserts also began gaining popularity.

Reaching and maintaining freezing temperatures remained a serious problem, until the value of adding salt to the ice was discovered. Dissolving salts in crushed ice serves to drive the temperature down below zero degrees C, freezing the cream and other ingredients, and making true ice cream.

Sometimes ‘Bessy the cow’ got redeployed to other duties. Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site

By 1842 the first Ice cream machine was invented by American Nancy Johnson, consisting of a wooden bucket, a bowl for the ingredients and a cranked paddle agitator. Ice was added to the bucket, salt poured on top and the crank turned until the ice cream mix thickened and froze.

Mrs Somers churning butter, c.1950. Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site

Young farm women like Clara were responsible for processing milk, into all sorts of products, butter, cream, milk, butter milk, cheese and but only very occasionally ice cream.

Ice Cream simply took too much investment to be made regularly. By 1890, an innovative solution developed; the Ice Cream Social. Towns, communities and especially churches sponsored Ice Cream Socials, where ordinary folks could enjoy the sweet treat.

Kingston family Milk delivery wagon c. 1930s Photo courtesy of the Our Miramichi Heritage Family FB site.
The Kingston family operated a dairy and milk delivery service which included ice cream. This photo is of two Kingston children on the milk wagon. C.1940

In larger centers some farms families turned to milk delivery and eventually family owned dairies, with products sold, often from the family home. Since by 1890 most towns had an infra structure of ice houses to store and supply ice to customers, both private and public. The supply of ice was no longer a problem, so ice cream was added to the offering of many family run dairies.

Church sponsored events such as Ice Cream Socials brought a reason to meet and socialize as a church community to share a ‘rich’ treat, but it also provided a means to raise funds for mission projects, like the work of Rev John Morton of Pictou County, NS, and his successor Dr Kenneth Grant, in the British West Indies6.

The ice, cream, sugar, salt, etc. the ice cream making machines as well as the work and effort put into preparing, making and serving the treat were all donated by church members. It is entirely possible that the Grant family might have donated ice for the effort. Like Clara, Myrtle would have volunteered for all sorts of church fund raising, including Ice Cream Socials.

Communities of this time in large part revolved around church and church related activities. Church would serve as a driving force in both Myrtle and Clara’s lives. The mission work of their church communities inspired and motivated them both. Clara a natural musician, hoped to join her brother Victor as a missionary. Myrtle would serve her church as the wife of minister, Chester Walls, Clara’s brother.

Before the advent of available mechanical refrigeration, the problem of achieving a thick creamy consistency in ice cream was addressed by adding flour to aid in thickening. The version of homemade ice cream in the My Mother’s Cookbook’s collection is a ‘custard’ style recipe which uses flour. It is also a large recipe which yield’s about 3 gallons of ice cream.

My Mother’s Cookbooks Ice cream

Ingredients:

4 cups homogenized milk divided
2 Tbsp flour
11/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs yolks beaten slightly
4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp pure vanilla
2 cups Blueberries (optional)
Rock Salt for ice

Method:
  1. Scald 21/2 cups milk;
  2. In the top of a double boiler, mix flour, sugar, salt, and 1 cup of the remaining milk together until smooth, added scalded milk;
  3. Beat egg yolks slightly with 1/2 cup milk (remaining) in a heat proof bowl and set aside;
  4. Heat in double boiler, stirring constantly until the milk thickens about 8 minutes;
  5. Remove from heat and temper eggs with some of the hot mixture, add egg to saucepan, return to the heat and cook an additional 2 minutes;
  6. Remove from heat cool slightly before adding cream and Vanilla;
  7. Pour mix into the bowl of a ice cream maker, process until the ice cream is creamy and set, fold in blueberries if using.

Clara R. Walls

Clara’s plan to become a missionary would not come to pass. Clara’s life was shortened and restricted by a early vehicle accident. On a trip to visit family in a near by community Clara was thrown from the vehicle when it left the road near Nelson Hollow, Northumberland county, New Brunswick. A corset stay penetrated her spine leaving her paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair.

Sadly, only a few letters written to her brothers during the two years after her accident, remain. The letters reveal a deeply religious woman struggling with the limits of her life. Sadly, Clara would die in 1923, at 26 years of age.

Myrtle Vivian Grant Walls

Myrtle and Chester Walls married in 1924, at the time Chester was serving as minister in the Pictou county community of Salts Springs, they would serve a number of Presbyterian (United Church of Canada) churches across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Myrtle and Chester had two sons, Clyde and Grant, Grant would follow his parents in to ministry with the United Church of Canada.

Explanations and Resources:

  1. The Italian style of Ice Cream known as Gelato is made with 3.25 % butterfat which results in a lower fat version of ice cream.
  2. The Church of Scotland in Canada eventually became the Presbyterian Church, a portion of the Presbyterian churches in Canada united with the Methodist and Congregational churches to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.
  3. The Ship Hector arrived in what would become Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773 it brought the first large group of Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia.
  4. The ice chest or ice box which were commonly found in kitchens across North America before mechanical refrigeration dates back to the 18th century. It would be a enterprising farmer and cabinet maker Thomas Moore who would be credited with bringing the first ‘modern’ version into use.
  5. Nancy Johnson received the first US patent for an ice making machine, but she was only one of the many designers inspired by the tasty sweet.
  6. The Reverend John Morton and his successor Dr. Kenneth Grant, Presbyterian Missionaries to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago worked with East Indian indentured workers (and their families) of the sugar and Cocoa plantations of the two islands. Establishing schools, educational residences and orphanages for the beleaguered East Indian population. The relationship between Atlantic Canada and the West Indies which began as part of Triangular trade would become one tempered by the mission work of Morton, Grant and others including Rev. Dr. Victor B. Walls (Clara’s brother) and his wife Marion Smith Walls. The halls of Academia in Atlantic Canada are graced by many Trinidad and Tobago natives who began their education in schools which started with Morton’s and Grant’s mission.

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