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Ice Cream, Iced Cream, and Porcelain

When enjoying ice cream did you ever think about who invented it? Ice cream  evolved from “iced cream,” a European dessert dating to the late 17th and early 18th century. Iced cream would have been served from porcelain ice pails. During the hot summer months, in a time long before refrigerators and air conditioning, iced cream for dessert was a fabulous treat!

A History of the Dessert

While the precise origins of the dessert are unknown, the first recorded English use of the term “iced cream”was in 1671 when it appeared on a menu detailing what was served in a royal feast at Windsor Castle. In the 17th and 18th centuries, obtaining and preserving ice year-round was a huge undertaking.  Ice was often obtained from icehouses, which were built deep in the ground near great estates.  Because of the expense, iced food was typically enjoyed by the rich, who could afford to build icehouses and had servants or slaves who shaved the ice and prepared iced cream.

Making Iced Cream

Traditionally placed on the sideboard in the dining room, the base was filled with ice and salt, the liner filled with cream and occasionally cut fruit. Additional ice was placed on the high walled cover. The cream would freeze, and then at the end of the meal the Hostess would serve iced cream.

Porcelain and Iced Cream

Iced cream was made in porcelain iced cream pails. Porcelain was an ideal medium for such vessels, as its non-porous surface prevented the leakage of salt water into the ice(d) cream.

See: Jane Austen’s World

18th century Clignancourt Porcelain Ice Pails

Spode Porcelain Ice Coolers

The design of the typical iced cream cooler allowed for ice to be stored both in the interior, below the liner that held the cream, and on the exterior, in the cavity of the steep-sided lid.

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Blue-and-White Porcelain: Fancy and Fashion

Ever since its debut in the West dating back to the fifteenth century, blue-and-white porcelain has won the hearts of Europeans through its smooth surface, vivid decoration, and more importantly, hard and impermeable white body. With the rise of international maritime trade from the seventeenth century and on, a great number of blue-and-white wares from China and later Japan entered the European markets via transnational trading firms such as the established Dutch India Company (VOC).

Chinese Blue and White Porcelain

The Dutch had a strong preference for blue-and-white china and often displayed Oriental blue-and-white porcelain in their bourgeois interior space–on the mantelpiece or the cabinets, for instance. In the mid-seventeenth century when porcelain production in Jingdezhen was seriously disturbed by the political chaos during the Ming-Qing dynastic transition, it was very difficult for the Dutch to obtain lucrative blue-and-white products from China. Instead, they looked for recently-developed Japanese blue-and-white vessels as an alternative. As it was much more expensive and complicated to purchase blue-and-white porcelain from Japan, the Dutch endeavored to manufacture pottery similar to Asian blue-and-white examples with more accessible native materials. Delftware, a type of tin-glazed earthenware, thus flourished in the second half of the seventeenth century. Though working with a less prestigious medium, Delft artisans were proficient in imitating typical Chinese and Japanese decorative motifs found on export blue-and-white pieces. While Oriental porcelain was highly sought after by upper-class consumers, Delft was well received by middle-class patrons who were eager to show their taste with affordable but trendy blue-and-white ceramics.

Dutch Delft

The export blue-and-white porcelain from late Ming and Qing China (ca.1573-1900), unlike the domestic products for emperors and scholar-officials, is often characterized by bold and freehand decoration that exudes a sense of spontaneity. Unbounded by rigid court design patterns and Confucian symbolism, craftsmen managed to create a variety of export porcelain with vigorous and fantastic ornamentation that inspires Western viewers’ endless imagination of the distant Eastern realm.

Chinese Export Porcelain