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7 Jun 2021

A taste of history at Gladstone’s Land

Written by Anna Brereton, Visitor Services Manager
Three ice cream cones lie on a plate. The two either side are a pale ice cream and the one in the middle is bright pink. The cones are topped with chocolate.
Ice cream in delicious waffle cones at the newly reopened Gladstone’s Land
The ground floor of Gladstone’s Land has been transformed into an ice cream and coffee parlour, inspired by more than 400 years of history.

Iced desserts have been around for over 2,000 years, with records showing that the Romans enjoyed ice mixed with fruit. The emperor Nero is reputed to have ordered snow to be brought down from the mountains to make an early form of sorbet.

By the 18th century, iced desserts were a recognised status symbol. Before modern freezing techniques, ice was difficult to keep, and so ice houses became popular fixtures at country estates. Ice houses were dug partially into the ground, and located close to water sources to keep the temperature lower. You can see examples at several National Trust for Scotland properties including Newhailes, Fyvie Castle and Haddo House.

A view of the grand entrance to Newhailes House, with two pink flowering blossom trees either side of the main building. A gravel drive sweeps up to the entrance staircase.
Newhailes House, near Musselburgh – a late 18th-century ice house has been found in the grounds.

Iced desserts seem to have originated around the Mediterranean region, with records of sharbat or serbet being drunk or eaten in Turkey, Egypt and Persia as early as the late Middle Ages. They enjoyed flavours such as lemon, pomegranate, quince, strawberry, cherry, orange, rose, orange blossom, tamarind, mulberry and violet. These are fruits and spices that would have been sold in the grocer’s shop at Gladstone’s Land in the early 17th century. By the 16th century, sharbat or serbet had made its way to Italy as sorbetti or sorbetta, and into England and Scotland as sherbet.

One of the most famous early records of ice cream in Britain is recorded by Elias Ashmole, who wrote down the menu at a feast given for Charles II and the Order of the Garter on 31 March 1670. The ‘ice cream’ was served only at the King’s table, along with other tempting sweets:

• One Charger of China Oranges, containing 50.
• Seven Chargers of Confections, in each Charger 20 Boxes; in each Box one pound of dried Confections.
• Two Plates of Duke Cherries, 4 pound in each Plate.
• One Plate of Red Strawberries, containing one Gallon.
• One Plate of White Strawberries, containing two Gallons.
• One Plate of Ice Cream.
• Three Plates of liquid Sweetmeats, in each Plate 3 pound.

Ice cream didn’t reach the general public in the UK until 1718, when the first published recipe for ice cream was written by Mary Eales, confectioner to Queen Anne. She suggested using cherries, raspberries and strawberries in her recipes. It was slow to catch on in Britain as people were concerned about the health effects of imbibing something so cold!

The new ice cream parlour at Gladstone’s Land will serve luxury ice creams and sorbets. As well as popular modern flavours, including raspberry sorbet and double cream vanilla ice cream, researchers have developed elderflower & lemon curd as our first bespoke flavour. They used documents related to the first sales of ice cream in Edinburgh in the 1900s, inspired by the rich history of international trade that characterises the building’s past.

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