Tamarind ice-cream

An exotic ice cream flavour from the nineteenth century

Putti making ice cream. Detail from the frontispiece of L'art de bien faire les glaces d'office (1768)Last year I had the good fortune to attend a Georgian Cookery Course by the British food historian Ivan Day. He does not bother his pupils with adapted recipes, but lets them work with the original cookery books and if possible with contemporary cooking tools and moulds. One of the dishes we prepared during this course was tamarind water ice from Cookery and confectionary by John Conrade Cooke (1824).

Making ice cream without a deep freeze
One of the original kitchen implements was an antique ice bucket. It was a great experience to prepare perfect ice cream with nothing but a wooden vessel, a metal inner vessel with lid and crushed ice with salt!

The picture on the right shows how ice cream was made during the eighteenth century. It is a detail from the frontispiece of a French book that is all about ice cream: L'art de bien faire les glaces d'office (1768) by M. Emy. Clockwise: At the top right a wheel barrow loaded with ice (frozen water) is being wheeled from an ice house. Then (to the right) the ice is being crushed. A putto spins the inner vessels containing ice cream by the handles in two ice buckets filled with crushed ice-and-salt. Another putto then scoops the frozen ice cream from the inner vessel.  At the table special little ice cream glasses are being filled (wafers and ice cream cones were not used for serving ice cream for another century). Finally a tray with the filled ice cream glasses is on its way to be served.

Antique ice bucketThis is the ice bucket that was used at Ivan Day's for preparing ice cream.
1 - The wooden outer vessel
2 - The thinner metal inner vessel. On the lid is a handle to spin the vessel
3 - Crushed ice with salt
4 - Wooden stamper to crush the ice and press it in the wooden vessel
5 - Scraper to scrape the frozen ice cream off the inner sides of the metal vessel

Maybe you are wondering where the ice comes from. During winter, frozen water is transported to very well insulated ice houses or pits. More information on ice houses can be found here.

Cookery and confectionary by John Conrade Cooke
The recipe we used at Ivan Day's is from an English cookery book from 1824, Cookery and confectionary. About the author, John Conrade Cooke, I know practically nothing. To be perfectly honest, I didn't research it very thoroughly. But I did find a favourable review from April 1825 in The Monthly Critical Gazette (p.469). Cooke's book was considered innovating because it provided exact amounts and preparation time in the recipes. This was often lacking in older cookery books. Nowadays however, people start to panic when they have to rely on their own insight and expertise. And still, Cooke could be rather vague. For example: the recipe for 'Tamarind cream ice' calls for "three spoonfuls of syrup". How large are these spoons? I guess pretty large, because otherwise the ice cream is simply too tart to enjoy.

The serving dish for ice cream at Ivan Day's, made in Angouleme around 1790Exotic flavours in the eighteenth and nineteenth century
Modern professional and amateur ice makers love to experiment with unusual and exotic flavours. This was nothing new, as an enormous variation in flavours already existed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cooke provides recipes for ice cream from raspberry, apricot, pineapple, lemon, orange, orange flower, coffee, tea, pistachio, custard, caramel, ratafia, biscuits, caramel, rye bread, ginger, crème de noyeau (liquor of apricot stones), almond, vanilla, chocolate, red currants, melon, apple, candied peel, barberry, succade, mulberry, punch and a kind of omelette sibérienne. This last variety was 'hot cream ice', in which ice cream of ratafia is covered with a thick layer of beaten egg whites and sugar and then put in a hot oven for a short while. The French Emy provides in L'art de bien faire les glaces d'office even more flavours as early as 1768, such as truffle, bergamot and Parmesan cheese.
A woman eating ice cream from a lick glass. Le bon genre, plate 4, 1827. DetailThe ice cream was moulded, or served in small ice glasses. It could also be served at the table from a large double-walled vessel with ice in the outer vessel and on the rimmed lid. The beautiful eighteenth-century French serving vessel on the left was used for serving the tamarind water ice at Ivan Day's. There is a page on his website on Georgian Ices and Victorian Bombes.

Tamarind, an exotic flavouring
Cooke presents a flavour that is not present in Emy's book on ice: tamarind. Tamarind is the fruit of a tree that originates from Africa, Tamarindus indica. As the name indicates, tamarind was introduced to the Indian sub-continent early in history. The botanical name even mentions India twice: the Arab tamar hindi means "date from India". So, Tamarindus indica means "the Indian date from India".

In the kitchen and in medicine it is the pulp surrounding the tamarind seeds that is used. This pulp has a reddish brown to very dark colour and it tastes really tart. The fruit is rich in vitamin C. In Asian cuisines tamarind is often used in dishes with meat or fish, but there is also tamarind syrup and tamarind candy, much like our own old-fashioned acid drops. Tamarind is also one of the ingredients of Worcestershire Sauce. In medicine tamarind is used as a laxative and to relieve fever.

Tamarind was introduced in Europe long before the nineteenth century. The earliest mention of the ingredient is in the writings of Nestorian and Islamic scientists from the eight to tenth century. Their texts were translated into Latin. In a later edition from 1644 of the Dutch Cruydt-Boeck ('Book on herbs') by the Leiden university professor Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) tamarind is described in the chapter on 'Indian or exotic trees, shrubs and herbs'. Purified tamarind eaten with sugar ("met Suyker ghegeten") is just as beneficent as cooling or tart syrup that can be bought at the apothecary. And Indians (=people from the Indian subcontinent) use these fruits instead of posca or verjuice, to add to their dishes ("de Indiaenen ghebruycken dese vruchten in stede van Edick oft Verjuys, om by hun spijsen te doen"). The chapter on exotic plants is a later addition to the Cruydt-Boeck, which was first published in 1554. It was added in the posthumous edition of 1608, and according to the title page mostly borrowed from works by Clusius ("meest getrocken wt de schriften van Carolus Clusius"), another professor from Leiden university. Clusius described tamarind in the Exoticorum which appeared in 1605.

Together with this historical ice cream recipe I published a recipe for very black ice from black sesame seeds, inspired by my trip to Japan two years ago. The recipe for black sesame ice cream has not been translated into English, but with google translate you'll get the gist.

The original recipe
The recipes for ice cream below are from Cookery and confectionary (1824) on respectively page190 and page184. The Bibliography at the bottom of this page shows how to access the text.
I have omitted recipe #675 for syrup, as sugar does not need to be clarified anymore. Simply prepare a 1:1-syrup (equal amounts of sugar and water in weight). I have adapted the recipe for tamarind ice made with cream. If you want to prepare tamarind water ice, double the amount of pulp, but also use more syrup.

786. Tamarind Cream Ice
Take half a pound of tamarinds, three spoonfuls of syrup (No. 675); warm it together and add one pint and a half of cream; rub it through a sieve; and freeze, as No. 759.
787. Tamarind Water Ice
Take one pound of tamarinds, a quarter of a pint of syrup  (#675), a pint and a half of water; heat it together; rub through a sieve, and freeze, as No. 579 [sic].
759. Freezing Ice Creams, and Water Ices.
In freezing creams and water ices, care must be taken not to make them too rich with syrup, or they will not freeze, or too poor, by putting too much water or milk in them, as they turn icy, which is, they separate in congealed particles.
To freeze, set the freezing pot in a tub with pounded ice and salt mixed and put tight round it; turn the freezing pot, with a cover on, quickly in the tub; and as the mixture freezes round the sides, scrape it off into that which is unfrozen at the bottom with the ice spoon, and turn it again till the whole is frozen to the consistency of butter; if wanted in shapes, put the frozen mixtures in them; cover them over with ice and salt till wanted; then wash the shape in cold water, that no salt remains on it; take off the ends of the shape, and the ice cream will slip out.
Ice fruits are put in leaden shapes, and when turned out, are coloured according to the fruit; and the bloom may be given then by blowing the breath on them when served in the dish.

Note - The fruits in moulds are, generally, pine apples, melons, oranges, lemons, peaches, and grapes. Ice cases are made for the convenience of turning the creams out and keeping them ready to dish up.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
I have adapted the recipe for an electric ice maker. However, with the instructions in the original recipes and the pictures and description at the top of this page, it should be clear how ice making went in the nineteenth century. So if you are in the happy possession of such an appliance, now you know what to do with it!

Tamarind pods, pulp and pasteCooke does not clarify whether he used fresh pods (1) or pressed tamarind pulp with stringy bits and seeds (2). I prepared the ice cream with pressed pulp and with tamarind paste from a jar (3) because that is probably the easiest to find for most people. But the tamarind paste one can buy in (at least Dutch) supermarkets is watery and does not always taste natural, due to additions as sugar, acidity regulators and preservatives. It is difficult to translate the amounts of fresh or pressed pulp into tamarind paste, because different brands have different additions.

Pressed pulp does not contain any additions, according to the information on the product. Taste is personal, but I preferred the ice cream from pressed tamarind pulp to the one prepared with tamarind paste. It just takes a little more effort to make it.
In spite of the watery substance, tamarind paste from a jar is darker than pressed pulp. And a lot tarter! Using the proportions given by Cooke, the ice cream from tamarind paste was not appreciated by most people on my tasting panel. However, when I served them ice cream prepared with pressed pulp and using the amounts given by Cooke, everyone loved it.
Yields about 8 decilitre ice cream (6 to 8 persons); Preparation in advance 10 minutes plus pre-cooling; Preparation time depends on the ice maker you own.

Tamarind ice cream from 1824Ingredients
100 gram tamarind pulp
2 decilitre sugar syrup (1 decilitre water and 100 gram sugar, heated until the sugar has melted)
4 decilitre cream

Preparation in advance
Put the tamarind pulp in a pan with the syrup, bring to the boil. Stir and crush until the pulp has dissolved. Strain this through a sieve, rubbing with a spoon until only the pits and stringy fibres are left in the sieve.
Stir in the cream, and let the mixture cool. Once at room temperature, cool further in the refrigerator. If possible, put anything you'll be using for preparing the ice in the refrigerator.

Put the ice maker in a cool spot in the house (which is not necessarily the kitchen). Pour in the ice mixture and make ice according to the instructions of your machine. If you do not have an electric ice maker nor an antique one, just pour the mixture into a container that conducts heat well and put it in the freezer. Take it out every half hour, scrape the frozen ice from the sides of the container and stir well. Repeat until you have ice cream.

To serve
Serve the ice in a bowl using an ice cream scoop. In the early nineteenth century ice cream was served in special serving dishes: a porcelain bowl with an inner bowl. Crushed ice with salt was put in between. The lid had a raised rim, and was also filled with ice and salt. This kept the ice cream frozen while waiting to be served.
The ice cream has a pleasant tart taste. Serve with whipped cream with some sugar to soften the taste if you want to.

Pineapple mould for ice cream, photographed at Ivan Day'sMoulded pineapple ice creamIn the eighteenth and nineteenth century ice cream was often served in the shape of a fruit. Antique ice moulds were completely three-dimensional, and they consisted of two or more hinged parts. The result could be pineapple-ice cream that looks like a real pineapple, as you can see in the picture that was made during the cookery course of Ivan Day.
In Cooke's recipe 759 the ice is put into leaden shapes after being frozen. I'm not sure whether that is a good idea: lead is poisonous. Maybe covering the inside of the shape with one layer of thin plastic foil before filling it is a solution. When the ice is unmoulded, it is easy to remove any irregularities from the plastic foil by using a knife or spoon. There are also tinned copper moulds that are safe to use. Or you can use any modern pudding mould.
Ivan Day has written a very interesting paper on Georgian ices, illustrated with pictures of ice creams and moulds.

To preserve
This ice cream is made without any additions. This means that the ice cream is at its best on the day it is prepared, or the day after at the latest. The ice cream will lose its flavour and form larger ice crystals. You can use egg yolk or a pinch of cream of tartar or tartaric acid to make the ice cream keep a little longer. But I prefer to prepare just enough.

All descriptions of ingredients

Tamarind - Tamarindus indica is a tropical perennial tree that can reach heights of twenty meter (over 65 feet). The fruit are long brown pods, filled with seeds ('beans'). The seeds are not consumed. It is the pulp surrounding the seeds which is used in the kitchen. Its taste is pleasantly tart. In Indonesian cuisine tamarind is also known as assem. In older (Dutch) cookbooks with Indonesian recipes tamarind is often replaced with lemon juice. But for the tamarind ice cream recipe that is not possible.

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)

  • John Conrade Cooke, Cookery and confectionary. (1824). There are several bad reproductions of this cookbook available. But why waste your money on them when you can read the original online for free? Strangely enough, books.google does not offer a full view of this copyright-free book. It offers links to at least six printed 'facsimiles' which you can buy for anything from 15 to 30 Euro. Without illustrations, but with the warning that "Due to the very old age and scarcity of this book, many of the pages may be hard to read due to the blurring of the original text." If you insist on buying such a bad reproduction, you can go to Amazon or the Bookdepository.
  • M. Emy, L'art de bien faire les glaces d'office ou les vrais principes pour congeler tous les Raffraichissemens, Paris, 1768. Online version.