Ice-cream cooler from the dinner service made for Catherine II of Russia Sèvres porcelain, 1778 (C478)
There were ten ice-cream coolers in this remarkable service and each was ingeniously designed for its purpose.
Inside the bowl there would have been a porcelain or tin liner containing the ice cream or sorbet, and this would have been set on a bed of crushed ice and salt to keep it chilled. Even the steep-walled cover would have been packed with ice for extra insulation. The gilded jet of water of the handle at the top resembles a fountain of frozen gold which, together with the icicles round the rim, echo its icy function. Ice was cut from the River Neva in St Petersburg each winter and kept frozen in subterranean ice-houses for use throughout the year.
Ice creams and sorbets were popular in the dessert course of a meal, though they were drunk in a less-solid form than today, as shown by the small cups with handles in which they were served (see illustration). Called glaces (a term described as ‘modern’ in 1757), they were made by filling tin boxes with fruit juices, chocolate or cream, which were then steeped in large urns containing crushed ice and salt (see illustration). The tin box or a porcelain equivalent was then dropped into the ice-cream cooler ready for serving. They would have been served at the same time as fruit compotes and jellies, fresh, dried, or candied fruits, and such sweetmeats as sugared almonds to complete a sumptuous imperial dinner.