Does Mr Whippy still have the best tunes?
Never mind Westlife or Boyzone or the Spice Girls, the tune that had me jumping for joy as a little girl was ‘Greensleeves’. Pumped out from screeching, tinny speakers several streets away, it was the sound that heralded the arrival of Mr Whippy’s ice cream van.
Part of British culture, we’ll eat ice cream in winter and queue for it, even on a wet bank holiday. The ice cream van’s grip on our imagination is a powerful form of nostalgia as the historian Simon Schama wrote of his own boyhood: “Mr Whippy is calling, and we short trousered, snake belted, grimy kneed, snot-nosed, want what he’s got. We want a 99, God, how we want it”.
Times have changed and the ice cream van isn’t such a common sight.
Mr Whippy has been undermined by better home refrigeration, the vast array of cheap ice cream available in supermarkets, the growth of high street ice cream parlours, and the fact children don’t play out in the street as much. Some councils have even banned them on environmental grounds.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Our enduring love for ice cream has seen a growing interest in learning how to make your own.
We’re lucky enough at The School of Artisan Food to have Kitty Travers, founder of London’s La Grotta Ices, to teach ice-cream making all year round. Kitty is renowned for her creative use of flavour, mastery of technique and commitment to natural ingredients, making her the go-to modern ice cream expert in the UK. Her ice-cream is divine. Even on a one day course, she makes nine different types of vanilla ice cream with each ingredient influencing the texture and flavour so you can make your own perfect version.
Kitty has travelled, studied and worked in Europe and New York so her flavours are a long way from Mr Whippy’s lovely but limited vanilla variations. She’s keen on seasonal flavours in ice creams, granitas and sorbets, and uses a mix of made-by-hand techniques and an ice cream machine for delights such as pear and parmesan ice cream or raspberry and fig leaf sorbet. She’s part of a growing trend towards the use of natural ingredients and unusual flavours that is helping sustain our love affair with ice cream.
So, even if Mr Whippy no longer travels your way, you can still make sure there’s plenty of fresh, natural, delicious ice cream in your freezer. And if you want, you can still add a flake. And some sprinkles. And put it in a cone with a texture like cardboard. And you can find ‘Greensleeves’ on the internet. I really need ‘Greensleeves’.