These days we take ice for granted – it’s just something that comes out of the freezer
These days we take ice for granted – it’s just something that comes out of the freezer. But until about forty years ago, it was not common for a family to have a freezer, and before the twentieth century, the only way to get ice was to wait for winter.
People have always understood how useful ice is for keeping food fresh. Remains of ice storage pits have been found all around the world, dating back more than two thousand years. Places, such as Northern America, which have very cold winters, used to “harvest” ice and sell it to people in other countries.
One hundred years ago, if you were quite well off, you might have had an “ice box” in your house to keep food fresh. To make this work, you had to buy blocks of ice regularly from an ice supplier and pack them into the insulated box to cool the food.
Two hundred years ago only people who were rich enough to build their own ice house could afford ice all year. These houses were built underground, and you would enter by a tunnel whose entrance faced north to prevent the sun from shining in and melting the ice. Ice would be cut from a lake in winter, packed in straw and stored in the ice house where it would actually last all summer to chill drinks and food and make the ultimate luxury – ice cream. Ice houses are no longer used, but there are still many in existence which you can visit in the grounds of stately homes.
Ice is also a very beautiful thing and is used in sculptures. Ice carving became popular in the 17th century when huge, flamboyant sculptures would be made for grand parties to display food – and prove just how rich the host was, as only a very wealthy person could afford such a thing. Ice sculptures are regarded as art today, and cities host ice festivals, including the Ice Sculpture Trail which is an annual event in Norwich. You can even stay in hotels made entirely of ice in chillier parts of the world.
Make your own ice decorations
A drab, grey winter landscape can be transformed into a wonderland by a frost, sparkling in the sunshine. The dead looking plants in the garden take on a new beauty when encased in sugary ice. Even a puddle is prettier when it turns to ice. If you want to decorate your garden one icy day, try making ice mobiles and pots.
To make a mobile, gather a collection of natural objects such as leaves, berries and plant heads. Place the items in different, shallow containers, for example, a jam jar lid, a small plastic bowl and a prettily shaped pastry cutter on a flat saucer. Arrange the containers in a row and run a piece of string or ribbon across them. Fill the containers with enough water to cover the objects, and make sure that the string is well covered.
If the weather is good and icy, you can leave the mobile outside to freeze. Alternatively, you can cheat and put it in the freezer. When everything is frozen solid, carefully pop your ice shapes out. Dipping the containers briefly in hot water will help to loosen the shapes and prevent them from cracking when removed. Hang the mobiles outside the window, or decorate a tree with them, and enjoy watching them spinning slowly in the sunshine on a frosty day.
Another way to make decorations is to freeze sprigs of berries, for example, in a pot of water. Dip the pot in hot water to help turn out the ice. Make several and line them up on the edge of the terrace to sparkle in the sun.
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