The English love ice cream and oddness

James Stevens Cox (1910-1997) was an ‘antiquary and archaeologist, bibliophile and publisher,’ and an English oddball of highest order. Born to a family of wigmakers, Cox was known for his booming voice, for dressing in medieval smocks, washing in almond oil, and keeping pet toucans.

The pamphlet Ice Creams of Queen Victoria’s Reign, edited by Cox and published under his imprint The Toucan Press in 1970, is billed as ‘a practical guide to making real ice-cream,’ but like most of the cookery books I’ve bought lately, the most interesting thing about it is its author.

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It seems that Cox was quite the fad dieter, for when he saw how his pet toucans thrived on a diet of mealworms, he took to eating them himself from a little tin, after dinner. It is also said that while on a trip around America by Greyhound bus, Cox fed his family entirely on a diet of oranges and Complan. I assume this was the same trip that his son Gregory Stevens Cox recalls in the Preface to Ice Creams of Queen Victoria’s Reign.

‘I have heard from unimpeachable authorities that as a young man my father not infrequently consumed sixteen ice-cream sundaes in one sitting,’ Gregory writes. It seems his father wasn’t so keen on limiting his own consumption as he was the rest of his family, for ‘On several occasions he has visited ice cream factories in America; and in January, 1965, I saw him eat a GALLON of ice-cream while waiting for a bus in a snow storm in Norwalk, Conneticut.’

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Cox sounds like a greedy, but extraordinary man, and as Gregory puts it, ‘well qualified to edit a monograph about ice creams.’ The pamphlet Ice creams of Queen Victoria’s Reign contains 24 recipes taken from Gunter’s Modern Confectionary (1881), along with the following brief, but helpful words of advice from the Editor: ‘Too little sugar will cause the ice cream to freeze hard; too much sugar will prevent the ice cream from freezing properly.’

When I found out about the man who compiled it, I expected the recipes to be as far-out as Cox, but in fact the selection he has chosen are relatively straightforward and familiar. All the classics are here: custard, chocolate, coffee, pistachio, vanilla and strawberry. The recipes that caught my eye particularly though, were those for green tea ice cream, brown bread ice cream, Noyeau ice cream (an Amaretto-like liquer), burnt ice cream made with burnt sugar, and chestnut ice cream with orange-flower water.

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For those who would like to try making ‘The nourishing, toothsome creams of Victoria’s reign’ as enjoyed by Cox, here is the recipe for ‘Custard Ices’ to start you off:

‘Beat up the yolks of seven or eight new-laid eggs, pour them into a copper pan; add a pint of good cream, and mix together gently. Take the extreme outside rind of a lemon, as thin as you can pare it, and one slice of the lemon; add them to the cream. Place the pan on the fire, and stir constantly with a wooden whisk. You must not let the cream boil, as it would them curdle and be spoilt. When it gets thick and refuses to obey the motion of stirring, remove it from the fire, for it is done. It now requires to be sweetened; add half a pound of pounded sugar (or what suits your taste) and pass through a sieve. Sometimes half milk and half cream are used, when two or three extra eggs must be mixed in. You boil the milk and cream, and add the eggs and lemon. All new cream and less eggs, however, make the best custard. Flavour as you think necessary.’

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I bought Ice Creams of Queen Victoria’s Reign, The Ladybird ABC, Barbara Baeta’s West African Favourites and Cakes and Confections a la Mode at A & Y Cumming, 84 High Street, Lewes, BN7 1xN

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