Ruby Violet, my maternal grandmother, was born on the first day of spring 1906. King Edward VII was on the throne and a heatwave hit that summer. She was a strident opinionated lady with dubious driving skills and a love of Energen rolls, Penguin biscuits, golf, bridge – and ice cream.
Ruby Violet loved a choc ice and as a child, I remember my sister and I eating slices from a block of plain ice cream squashed between a couple of wafers. When we went to my grandma’s house for our holidays, we badgered her for ice cream and she usually gave in, probably because it was a good excuse for her own indulgence.
For 34 years I was an editorial and advertising photographer and had fun working on many cookery books with great home economists in all sorts of glamorous locations (usually within the M25). But times change and as the digital global age took over I felt the need to connect once again with people, especially my local community. I love the conversations, the random nature of observations, the exchange of ideas, the enormous diversity of people coming through the door in any one day, and the amazing range of talents that all lie within a small radius of NW5.
Most people love ice cream. It reminds them of happy times, childhood memories of holidays and hot sunny summers. There is a combination of nostalgia mixed with the excitement of discovering fresh new ingredients, even if you then find they appeared in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal in 1653. It’s a happy environment; ice cream makes people smile.
I started making batches in a small domestic maker and tested the recipes on my enthusiastic neighbours, who were then, and still are, very forthcoming in their views. After a few months a new market opened just down the road and I took a stall (tested in my neighbour Stefanie’s garden) outside the Tufnell Park Tavern for four hours every Saturday.
The back seats were removed from my car and every weekend a spontaneously arranged crew, coerced from the immediate vicinity, lugged the essentials of an ice cream parlour: a heavy duty freezer box, two small freezers and a display freezer, three trestle tables, a gazebo and endless strings of homemade bunting, all transported in three separate journeys to the market. There we sold ice cream in cones and tubs, whatever the weather, to an increasing band of loyal and hardy customers.
After customising the car in the service of ice cream, I then turned my attentions to the ‘ice cream factory’, which had hitherto been our home. Large machines and freezers gradually filled our living room, our social life fizzled out and what convivial conversation there had been was now drowned out by the sound of whirring machines. A year later we moved into premises on the borders of Tufnell Park and Kentish Town, a little jewel in the heart of Fortess Road, that has been set up and run on the principle of small is beautiful and all ingredients are sustainable, fresh and local when possible.
All the ice cream is still made in small batches, using seasonal fruit prepared daily on the premises. In summer the mint, rhubarb, apples and honey are all sourced from within a few miles and the blackberries and damsons come from my home village of Flintham in Nottinghamshire.
Another of our recycling projects has been the restoration of ‘Billy the van’ – a 1968 English Austin, who had spent the previous 30 years lolling around in a field. Now renovated as a fully equipped ice cream van, we are able to venture out to do our good works.
The quality of ingredients is important. In these days of industrialized farming it is always good to have a sense of where ingredients come from. The ingredients in so much of supermarket ice cream, especially soft scoop, are varied and often surprising. I never imagined that you could buy ice cream that was made from pork fat, or nowadays the more environmentally controversial palm oil, but then I was also surprised that you could buy ice cream that had no whole milk or cream content whatsoever.
At Ruby Violet we’re happy to keep it local, use traditional ingredients, make it by hand and talk to our customers.