Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ice cold

(Water ice cream. Photo: from internet)

Different countries define ‘heat wave’ differently and in some of the larger countries this varies from region to region. In the Netherlands warm days are said to form a heat wave when on 5 consecutive days temperatures are 25 ºC or higher. A Greek heat wave is a lot hotter: 3 consecutive days with temperatures at 36.5 ºC or higher. For weeks here in Greece the mercury has barely fallen below 30 ºC and there are days when the mercury tries to climb over the 40 ºC. But officially it is not a heat wave, but a prolonged period of heat with separate heat waves.

This hot period started in the middle of June, long before the Dog Days started on July 20th and if measuring it according to Dutch definitions of a heat wave, this was one endless mega-heat wave (although the Dutch definition is only for Holland). The Dog Days are the hottest period of the summer, with the most heat waves and will last officially until August 20. So we still have some hot weeks to go!

According to the Hellenic National Meteorological Service summers are warming up, plagued by more and more heat waves.
If this doesn’t make you happy, you’d better think about other things like lovely cooling ice.

Centuries ago the summers were not that hot, but they were still pretty warm. There were no refrigerators then to keep a drink cool or to preserve food. How did they do it before refrigerators were introduced to households in the twentieth Century?

In ancient times they didn’t have cool boxes but ice houses, although I presume that those were only for a happy few of the rich and mighty. Ice houses were mostly round shaped buildings above a cellar where ice was stored in order not to melt in the summer. In Iranian texts from around 1700 BC there are descriptions of such buildings and around 300 BC Alexander the Great had made deep wells where snow was stored.

Well, I’d love to have such a well on our land. Just imagine, we could have a snowball fight in the middle of the summer. That would be really cool! I could also do with benches made out of those big blocks of ice, which formed a flourishing trade in the 19th century. Frederic Tudor, also called the Ice King of Boston, made a fortune by storing blocks of ice and later transporting them all over the world, to the Caribbean, to South America, India, China and Australia.

Blocks of ice were hacked out of frozen lakes in the winter and transported to the icehouses. Henry David Thoreau, who lived for three years in the woods at Walden Pond (Massachusetts, US) described in his book Walden, how each winter the Ice Men of Tudor came to take ice from ‘his’ pond, which would end up in faraway countries like India.

At the beginning of the beautiful movie America, America (1963, Elia Kazan) two men are seen to hack ice blocks out of a glacier on a mountain in Anatolia (Turkey). With horse and carriage the blocks were removed to the villages where they were sold and used to preserve or cool food and – who knows – just to eat it as a cooling treat.

When the refrigerator was introduced worldwide this ice commerce lost its profitability. Since then however the ice industry found other outlets. When the refrigerator was introduced it was the water-ice creams that melted the hearts of children. Now this industry has grown so big that children no longer know which ice cream will be the best. In earlier times your choice was as simple as choosing a red or a yellow coloured one. Nowadays they make ice cream from everything, even from hamburgers, garlic, salmon, whatever you want. Ice cream maker Heladaria Coromoto in Venezuela even sells 860 different flavours!

I am not such an Ice Queen and I only make ice from the fruit that comes off the tree in our garden which I combine with yoghurt or cream to make a delicious ice cream. And to be honest I am not waiting to turn a tsatsiki or a fava into a cool dish. Although I must admit that I once made a lovely fig ice cream and that I was not disappointed at all experimenting with tomato ice cream. The Tomato Sorbet with Garlick Sauce even made it in my cookbook Almost Greek and is a delicious dish served in between a meal.

If this heat continues any longer who knows if I will be crazy enough to try out some souvlaki-ice cream, some aubergine-ice cream or even some sardine-ice cream!

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

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