Today has been an absolute scorcher of a day. I swear half of me has melted away!
If I could walk around the streets of London in a string bikini, I would. But unfortunately can’t (especially not with this bod!) so I’ve had to think of other ways to beat the heat and I’ve been downing anything that’s icy cold.
And thoughts turned to all the ice-creams we used to devour as kids. It goes without saying that we loved our ice-cream. For a number of reasons, this was not a freezer staple but rather an occasional treat. There’d always be tubs of Cornish vanilla or neopolitan ice-creams at family parties and gatherings; the ice-cream man wasn’t safe when we heard the van approaching our road, and ice-cream cones always featured when my family and I hit the local park. Unsurprisingly, Mum refused to stock up on ice-cream during the winter months, so ice-cream is most definitely synonymous with summer.
Today ice-cream means Ben and Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs, Carte D’or and (once) unusual flavours such as salted caramel, lemon meringue pie, espresso, and toffee apple. When I asked my class recently what their favourite flavours were, ‘pistachio’ and ‘green tea; featured in the answers. And me? Well funnily enough my favourite ice-creams are three which are very hard to find in England: I love butter pecan (USA) crème caramel/flan (Spain) and brown bread ice-cream (Ireland.) I must be the only person who needs to hop on a plane every time they fancy an ice-cream cone!
This is all good but it’s dawned on me that many of the ice-cream flavours from my childhood have either totally disappeared or they’re very hard to come by. Ice-creams in the 1970s,1980s and 1990s wasn’t necessary high-end or ultra-sophisticated. In fact when I think about it, there were very limited in their range of flavours (generally chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla) and packaging was anything but glam. Brands were typically Wall’s, Lyon’s Maid… and not much else! But it was fun, delicious and it kept you cool.
I absolutely love ice-cream today: there’s a never-ending variety of flavours, including savoury flavours (avocado chilli or basil, anyone?) the quality has vastly improved, and it’s that much more creamier and flavourful. But I can’t help but get all nostalgic when I think about what ice-cream looked like back in the day and those retro flavours. So as an ode to summers gone by and staying cool, here’s a list of the ice-cream flavours that were around when I was growing up in the eighties. Some of them are still around; some are hard to find, and some seem to have melted away…
Vanilla ice-cream needs absolutely no introduction! Vanilla ice-cream might be considered a bit, well, vanilla, but back in the eighties, in a world with limited ice-cream flavours, if anyone had a tub of ice-cream in their freezer, you could bet your life it would be vanilla. It was very popular in our house although Mum tended to buy it in block form rather than a tub. I suppose one reason it was so popular was because it was – and still is – so versatile: you could pop it in a soda float; add any flavour topping to it; layer it up in a sundae, or serve it as an accompaniment to a pudding such as a cake or tart – much like we do today. However most of the people I knew used to serve it with tinned fruit salad – a real treat back then for us kids (tinned fruit was the only fruit I’d eat back then) or jelly. It might not sound very sophisticated but if someone served that up for me now I’d still scoff it!
Today, vanilla has to work hard to maintain its popularity with all these weird and wonderful ice-cream flavours around that are tempting us away from this good, old-fashioned flavour. Vanilla is still tops due to its versatility but we’re much more fussy when it comes to the quality and won’t settle for any old vanilla ice-cream. It has to be super smooth and creamy, with an intense vanilla flavour – and if it happens to be vanilla bean ice-cream, so much the better!
2. CORNISH VANILLA
Now this was the ice-cream flavour that Mum was most likely to buy and it was always the Wall’s brand that was in our freezer. Cornish vanilla ice-cream had a much deeper cream-come-yellow colour that regular vanilla ice-cream didn’t have, and what I remember most was that deliciously buttery flavour. Even as a child I felt that Cornish vanilla ice-cream didn’t really need any sauces or toppings thanks to that unique flavour; I preferred to have it ‘plain’.
Over the years I gradually stopped devouring Cornish vanilla. I’m not sure if it’s because I ate bucket-loads as a child or because I was tempted away by other flavours – or maybe both! But when I’m hit by nostalgia – as I so often am – I do treat myself to some Cornish vanilla ice-cream. However, I can’t help feeling a little underwhelmed by it because that intense, buttery flavour that I remember doesn’t seem the same – no matter which brand I buy. But I live in hope of rediscovering it.
I didn’t know a kid back then who didn’t like chocolate ice-cream – and I still don’t! It’s still very much a firm favourite today with children and adults alike. When I was growing up, it was just ‘chocolate’. Now chocolate ice-cream has more varieties than Heinz: white chocolate, chocolate brownie, chocolate fudge; chocolate cookie dough; chocolate mud pie; triple chocolate; chocolate-til-it’s-coming-out-of-your-ears etc.
At secondary school, we were fortunate enough to have an ice-cream van arrive in the school yard every lunch time and home time, where after school, I would sometimes treat myself to a chocolate cone. I wonder what Mr. Oliver would make of that!
And you don’t need me to tell you, it’s still one of the most popular ice-cream flavours all over the world. But then with all those chocolate variations it would have to be.
My memories of strawberry ice-cream – a flavour both my parents loved back then – was that it was always an eye-catching shade of pink, from a pretty pastel shade to a very deep pink. However one thing I’m wondering about is whether any of the strawberry ice-creams I devoured contained a scrap of real strawberry at all. I suspect most of them didn’t and were simply strawberry flavoured but even if we knew that back then, I doubt we would have minded very much.
Of course today there is a real distinction between the brightly coloured strawberry flavoured ice-cream, and the frozen, creamy delicacy that’s made with real strawberries and often contains yummy chunks of strawberries – and I definitely know which one I prefer!
And as with chocolate, there are many variations today of the humble strawberry ice-cream: strawberry cheesecake; strawberry shortcake; strawberries and cream; strawberry and Champagne… oh it was all so much simpler in my day!
5. MINT CHOC-CHIP
A childhood fave for me, as I loved anything that was mint flavoured (as a matter of fact I still do!) And contrary to popular belief, mint ice-cream tastes nothing like toothpaste. When I was around seven, I went through a phase where I would only ever eat ice-cream if it was mint choc-chip. I loved the cool, refreshing, minty taste combined with the soft, creamy texture. And those dark chocolate chips were a very welcome addition. Mint and chocolate – a winning combo if ever I heard one. And of course I loved the minty green colour too.
Mint choc chip is still readily available and although I never rush out and buy a tub anymore (I definitely overindulged when I was a child and can never finish a whole tub now) I never say no to a mint choc-chip cone.
6. RASPBERRY RIPPLE
This was another ice-cream flavour I really liked: vanilla ice-cream swirled with raspberry sauce. Once again Mum used to buy this in block form (yep, those blocks sure were popular in the eighties and nineties) which we would usually slice and serve between two wafers. I was always very fussy about which slice I got because it had to be very heavily rippled with raspberry sauce.
Thankfully this delicious ice-cream is still around today but I don’t think it is as consumed in such huge quantities anymore. Definitely one for the retro fanatics!
Whoever invented Neapolitan ice-cream is right up there with Einstein! It was a great idea to put the three popular ice-cream flavours together: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. It meant that mums could buy just one tub and know it would please the whole family, and for those who just simply couldn’t decide which one to buy – they could just go for Neapolitan. One tub fits all!
It goes without saying that a tub of Neapolitan was always very well received in our house where we all had our favourites. And whenever we had guests over for dinner and there was going to be ice-cream for afters, if it wasn’t vanilla, it was almost guaranteed to be Neapolitan because let’s face it everyone was guaranteed to like at least one of the flavours (unless they were strictly mint choc-chip in which case we were screwed!)
Neapolitan ice-cream is still around today but I wonder how many people have a tub in their freezer…
8. BROWN BREAD
Although brown bread ice-cream was well-known during the eighties, I don’t ever recall it being available to buy in stores. Instead it seemed to be an ice-cream people were encouraged to make at home judging by the recipes I’d see in magazines and on cooking shows. At the time I remember thinking what an odd flavour it was for an ice-cream. Why on earth would anyone want to eat ice-cream made out of bread?
Well I’ve just come back from holiday where I indulged in the most gorgeous brown bread ice-cream. Words really don’t do it justice. Good on the ice-cream parlour for having brown bread ice-cream as one of its flavours. I hope other parlours and restaurants will follow.
9. RUM N’ RAISIN
I may have had rum n’ raisin ice-cream only a handful of times when I was growing up, despite it being quite popular, because I wasn’t keen on raisins and I was afraid I’d get drunk on the artificial rum flavour! How times have changed because now I love to get drunk on real rum… but I still have a love-hate thing going on with raisins. So good on rum n’ raisin for making it into the twenty first century but I really don’t think it’s something I’ll ever be wolfing down (it would have stood a better chance without the raisins.)
My mum, on the other hand, loves raisins but will never stock the freezer with rum and raisin because she hates the taste of rum – or any alcohol for that matter!
This is an ice-cream flavour I loved back then and still do. Banana ice-cream wasn’t overly common when I was growing up – it still isn’t – but I remember that some restaurants offered it along with the top three. I really like banana ice-cream partly because I love the sweet, creamy taste of bananas but also because it made a change from vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. I’ve since discovered that banana ice-cream isn’t popular with a lot of people even now although I can’t understand why after all most people like a banana split and the flavours aren’t too dissimilar.
Never mind – I’ll still guzzle it by the bucketload!
11. TUTTI FRUTTI
Meaning ‘all fruits’ in Italian, this ice-cream flavour containing mixed peel, dried and candied fruits was incredibly popular during the eighties and early nineties and was a huge hit with my family, especially my mum and aunts. But guess what? I HATED it! I couldn’t stand the stuff. I remember one occasion during a family get together when my five year old self had cried the house down because I wanted some ice-cream. And of all the flavours they could have brought me, they brought me a bowl of horrid tutti frutti.
“Now you eat that,” said my aunt in a very stern tone, “you asked for it, now eat it!” I didn’t dare tell her that even though I’d asked for ice-cream, I did not ask for that awful flavour.
Even though my palate has changed over the years and I now like foods I once detested, I don’t think I could ever get used to tutti frutti ice-cream. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance to find out if I’m right because I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw it on sale… anywhere! In fact a lot of people I’ve spoken to have said the same. And despite my dislike of the flavour, I am sorry that it doesn’t seem to be around now as it brings back a lot of memories of my family, childhood and the eighties… and also because my mum likes it!
Chocolate chip ice-cream is an absolute classic: smooth vanilla ice-cream combined with crunchy chocolate chips. This was a very popular ice-cream flavour as I was growing up but funnily enough I don’t remember us having this at home. On the rare occasions when we were fortune to sample a dish of choc chip, it was usually in a restaurant. And of course this flavour is still consumed by the truckload.
Right, now I’m going to stay cool with a huge tub of olive oil and bay leaf ice-cream. Bliss!