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.

General Mills Is Recalling More Than 600,000 Pounds of Gold Medal Flour Over E. Coli Risk

jirkaejc/iStock via Getty Images
jirkaejc/iStock via Getty Images

The FDA recently shared news of a 2019 product recall that could impact home bakers. As CNN reports, General Mills is voluntarily recalling 600,000 pounds of its Gold Medal Unbleached All-Purpose Flour due to a possible E. coli contamination.

The decision to pull the flour from shelves was made after a routine test of the 5-pound bags. According to a company statement, "the potential presence of E. coli O26" was found in the sample, and even though no illnesses have been connected to Gold Medal flour, General Mills is recalling it to be safe.

Escherichia coli O26 is a dangerous strain of the E. coli bacterium that's often spread through commercially processed foods. Symptoms include abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Most patients recover within a week, but in people with vulnerable immune systems like young children and seniors, the complications can be deadly.

To avoid the potentially contaminated batch, look for Gold Medal flour bags with a "better if used by" date of September 6, 2020 and the package UPC 016000 196100. All other products sold under the Gold Medal label are safe to consume.

Whether or not the flour in your pantry is affected, the recall is a good reminder that consuming raw flour can be just as harmful as eating raw eggs. So when you're baking cookies, resist having a taste until after they come out of the oven—or indulge in one of the many edible cookie dough products on the market instead.

[h/t CNN]

The World's Spiciest Chip Is Sold Only One to a Customer

Paqui
Paqui

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to get pepper-sprayed directly in your mouth, Paqui Chips has something you can’t afford to miss. Following the success of their Carolina Reaper Madness One Chip Challenges back in 2016 and 2017, Food & Wine reports that the company has re-released the sadistic snack. Continuing their part-marketing gimmick, part-public safety effort, the Reaper chip won’t be sold in bags. You just get one chip.

That’s because Paqui dusts its chips with the Carolina Reaper Pepper, considered the world’s hottest, and most (attempted) consumers of the chip report being unable to finish even one. To drive home the point of how hot this chip is—it’s really, extremely, punishingly hot—the chip is sold in a tiny coffin-shaped box

Peppers like the Carolina Reaper are loaded with capsaicin, a compound that triggers messages of heat and pain and fiery consumption; your body can respond by vomiting or having shortness of breath. While eating the chip is not the same as consuming the bare, whole pepper, it’s still going to be a very uncomfortable experience. For a profanity-filled example, you can check out this video:

The chip will be sold only on Paqui’s website for $6.99 per chip or $59.90 for a 10-pack. The company also encourages pepper aficionados to upload photos or video of their attempts to finish the chip. If it becomes too much, try eating yogurt, honey, or milk to dampen the effects.

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