Sorbet or not Sorbet – Lucy Moore has ice in her veins

If you wanted an ice-cream in Mayfair two hundred and fifty years ago, there was only one place to go: Gunter’s. Established in 1757 as The Pot and Pineapple at 7-8 Berkeley Square, it was originally owned by Domenico Negri and sold sweetmeats, mousses, syrups, custards, caramels and ices of marvellous flavours, from chocolate to bergamot, brown bread to Parmesan – all very Heston Blumenthal. Before the advent of cones, ice cream was frozen in elaborate and beautiful hinged pewter moulds and then painted with food colouring like realistic sculptures. Some reflected the flavour, like roses or pineapples, and some didn’t. Would an ice-cream lobster appeal?

Negri’s shop served the cutting edge in culinary fashion, as demonstrated in the shop’s name: pineapples were first tasted in Europe in the fifteenth century, but it wasn’t until the eighteenth century, about when Negri set up and named his shop, that hot house technology had advanced enough for them to be grown in England and sold – almost certainly in neighbouring Covent Garden market – as a highly desirable and expensive delicacy.

In 1777, Negri went into partnership with James Gunter, and by 1799 Gunter had become the shop’s sole proprietor. For the next century and a half, Gunter’s Tea Shop would be the place to order ices, cakes and confectionary for parties – they made the wedding cake for Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Louise when she married in 1889.

Their ice cream was made and frozen in metal cylinders which were delivered, tied up with oilcloth and twine, in large baskets layered with ice and straw; the empties were then collected afterwards. When the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished in 1936 they moved to Curzon Street; the café closed down in 1956, though the catering service continued until the 1970s.

Gunter’s wasn’t the first place in England to make ice cream, but it was the most famous. Ice cream seems to have originated with the sherbets of the Ottoman empire and spread through the fifteenth century to Italy and thence to the royal courts of Europe. Charles I was said to love ice cream so much he offered his ice cream maker a lifetime pension to keep his recipe secret, and it was served to Charles II at a banquet in 1671 – but only on the monarch’s table.

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