Meet Agnes B. Marshall, the Victorian Queen of Ice Cream

udra/iStock via Getty Images
udra/iStock via Getty Images

At the extravagant dinner parties of Victorian England, the nation’s well-to-do dazzled their peers with beautiful displays of sumptuous dishes. A sample menu might start with carrot soup, oxtail soup, and two types of fish, followed by mutton, sweetbreads, oyster patties, and rabbit fillets. Next were turkey, beef, ham, and chicken. For the third course, roast hare, duck, potatoes, mushrooms, vol-au-vent stuffed with preserved fruit, and fluffy meringues floating in custard.

Then, with the dessert course came a culinary showstopper: ice cream. The frosty stuff was often piped, molded, and elaborately decorated. And there to school hosts in the art of ice cream making was Agnes B. Marshall, the 19th century guru of frozen treats.

Agnes B Marshall ice cream molds
The Book of Ices // Public Domain

Marshall wrote two cookbooks devoted solely to “ices”—ice creams, sorbets (which contained alcohol), mousses, and chilled soufflés. The books’ pages were packed with detailed recipes, which also served as handy advertisements for the many products that Marshall marketed and sold. Readers were instructed to freeze their ice creams in appliances that she patented, sculpt their desserts using molds that she commissioned, flavor their custards with Marshall’s syrups, and tint their concoctions with Marshall’s food coloring. Long before Rachael Ray was selling non-stick cookware and Martha Stewart had her own wine label, Marshall transformed her name into a household brand.

She was not the only Victorian woman to run a successful business, but her female peers often inherited their companies from a deceased spouse, food historian Peter Brears tells Mental Floss. The “Queen of Ices,” as Marshall was dubbed, sat on the throne of a self-made empire—and that, Brears says, made her “exceptional.”

Little is known about Marshall’s early life, but she appears to have come from relatively modest beginnings. She was born Agnes Bertha Smith in 1855, in Walthamstow, Essex, England. Her father was a clerk. In 1878, she married Alfred Marshall, and they had four children. Marshall’s husband provides us with one of the few known clues into her culinary training. In an 1886 interview, he noted that “Mrs. Marshall has made a thorough study of cookery since she was a child, and has practiced in Paris and Vienna with celebrated chefs.” But the details of her education remain largely mysterious. According to Brears, Marshall “suddenly appears” as a charismatic force on London’s culinary scene.

Agnes . Marshall, ice cream queen
Mrs. A. B. Marshall's Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes // Public Domain

In 1883, she opened a cookery school in the capital and went on to publish four cookbooks: The Book of Ices (1885), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery (1888), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes (1890), and Fancy Ices (1894). She also launched a weekly magazine called The Table, operated an employment agency for domestic staff, and traveled across England giving cooking demonstrations. Audiences adored her.

“[F]or two hours she completely engrossed the earnest attention of some 600 people, instructing and entertaining them at the same time,” The Times reported in 1887.

Marshall was a cook of diverse talents, able to whip up everything from roast turkey to vegetable curry to apple tarts. But within the realm of frozen desserts, her ingenuity truly shone—as did her business savvy.

Until the mid-Victorian period, ice cream had been an expensive delicacy, because ice was hard to come by. Only those wealthy enough to own ice houses—storage structures with cool, underground chambers—were able to enjoy frozen dishes year-round. In the mid-19th century, England began importing ice from the United States and Norway, making the chilly commodity more accessible to the upper-middle classes. A wider demographic could now prepare ice cream at home, and Marshall was ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Her books catered to moderately wealthy housewives, who did not boast the luxury of a large kitchen staff, but still wanted to transform their desserts into the striking displays that Victorian fashions demanded.

Marshall’s recipes burst with a cornucopia of flavors: vanilla, chocolate, tangerine, cherry, peach, almond, and even lobster, to name a few. She also provided detailed instructions on how to present the ices. Pineapple ice cream was to be frozen in the shape of a pineapple; peach ice cream sculpted into a cluster of peaches; coffee mousse crafted into a geometric tower and surrounded with asparagus spears made of biscuit cream—all with the help of Marshall-brand molds.

Agnes B Marshall ice cream molds
The Book of Ices // Public Domain

To create these delectable dishes, home cooks needed an ice cream maker. The machines were first patented in the early 19th century and consisted of a metal container that was placed inside a wooden tub packed with ice and salt. Cooks would pour the ice cream mixture into the metal container and churn it with a paddle, which aerated the mixture and produced a smooth, velvety dessert, rather than a cold, rocky lump. Hoping to improve on earlier models, Marshall patented an ice cream maker of her own.

“Instead of the old ice cream machines, which were tall and narrow, she devised one which was very shallow and broad,” Brears says. “And that meant that the freezing mixture had much greater surface contact to the ice cream container and froze quicker.”

Marshall also patented a range of “ice caves”—metal boxes inside larger containers that were packed with a salt-ice mixture, keeping dishes chilled until they were ready to serve. Some of her experimentation was quite avant-garde. In a 1901 issue of The Table, she suggested using liquid air to freeze ice cream on the spot at dinner parties, proclaiming that “as a table adjunct its powers are astonishing.” Today, more than a century after Marshall made her recommendation, ice cream shops deploy liquid nitrogen to make “ultrasmooth” confections.

Agnes B Marshall ice cream molds
The Book of Ices // Public Domain

In the early 1900s, after years of cooking, churning, and charming, Marshall began to experience bouts of ill health. A terrible blow came in 1904, when she was thrown from a horse during a riding session. She never fully recovered, and died on July 29, 1905, just three weeks shy of her 50th birthday.

In spite of all that she accomplished at a time when few women worked outside the home, Marshall is not well-known today. The lavish aesthetic that she represented went out of fashion after World War I, when aristocrats began to sell off their estates and rigid class divisions started to soften. “There was a dissenting rejection against Victorian fussiness,” Brears says. And Marshall, who once guided the nation’s dining trends, was largely forgotten.

But with creativity and drive, Marshall had grown her business to towering heights on a foundation of frozen desserts.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

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iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

The Reason You Should Never Rinse a Turkey

jax10289/iStock via Getty Images
jax10289/iStock via Getty Images

There are many misconceptions surrounding your Thanksgiving turkey, but none is more dangerous than the turkey-washing myth. Raw poultry can contain dangerous microbes like Salmonella, and it's not uncommon for home cooks to rinse their meat under cool water in an effort to wash away these pathogens. The intention may be admirable, but this is a worse turkey sin than overcooking your bird or carving it before letting it rest. According to AOL, rinsing a raw turkey with water is more likely to make you and your dinner guests sick than not cleaning it at all.

When you wash a turkey in the sink, there's no guarantee that all of the nasty stuff on the outside of it is going down the drain. In fact, the only thing rinsing does is spread potentially harmful microbes around. In addition to getting bacteria on you hands and clothes, rinsing can contaminate countertops, sink handles, and even the surrounding air.

There are three main ways to lower your chances of contracting Salmonella when dealing with raw turkey: Thaw your bird in the fridge, minimize contact with it before it goes into the oven, and give it plenty of time to cook once it's in there. For the second part, that means setting aside time to pat your turkey dry, remove the excess fat and skin, and season it without handling anything else. To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, wash your hands frequently and wash the plates, knives, and other tools that touched the turkey before using them again. You should also cook your stuffing outside the turkey rather than shoving it inside the cavity and creating a Salmonella bomb.

Once the safety aspect is taken care of, you can focus on making your turkey taste as delicious as possible. Here are some tips from professional chefs on making your starring dish shine this Thanksgiving.

[h/t AOL]

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