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Kitchen Histories: The Ice Pick

May 30, 2013

by Sarah Lohman

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour. In this series, Lohman will comb Etsy for items that speak to America’s culinary past.

The Kentucky Derby has come and gone, and it marks the one day a year most drinkers will consume a mint julep — a heavenly blend of bourbon, sugar and mint with lots of crushed ice. But for me, the Derby marks the beginning of Mint Julep Season. A sweet, icy julep is the best way I know to beat the heat on a sultry summer evening. Of course, sometime towards the end of June, Julep Season blossoms into Mojito Season — and sometime during the hottest days of August, Mojito Season gives way to Something-on-the-Rocks Season.

The key to all of these drinks is not which liquor you prefer, but the ice. I started thinking about the importance of ice after outfitting my home bar with a vintage ice pick from Etsy.

The concept of iced drinks goes back thousands of years: in the ancient Middle East, snow was brought down from mountains and mixed with sweetened, flavored syrups. The Romans diluted wine for consumption by mixing it with snow. In the United States, the first thing we called a cocktail — a combination of spirits, sugar, bitters, and water — was served at room temperature. Around the turn of the 19th century, we began cooling our alcoholic beverages with ice.

licking_ice_blocks

Library of Congress

Indulging in ice on a hot day.

Cut from lakes and ponds and stored in well-insulated icehouses, ice could last from the final snow of spring until the first snow of fall. As the ice industry grew in the 1900s, so did its presence behind American bars. The ice would have been brought into bars in blocks and skillfully chopped apart by the resident bartender into a single, large chunk to float in the center of a punchbowl; in lumpish cubes, to cool a cocktail; or “rasped,” shaved into a fine snow to instantly dilute a summer drink sipped through a straw.

The advent of the home freezer — and the ice cube trays that were sold with it — put an end to the ice-block industry in the 20th century. But today, there’s an ice revival. Step in to any high-end cocktail joint and you may spot a crystal clear ice block glistening on the back bar. I remember being astounded at the clarity and quality of the ice in my glass while drinking at Boston’s Stoddard’s Fine Food and Ale: the jumbled cubes were like rock diamonds. It sounds silly, but it was gorgeous. The ice is also cut to a size that properly dilutes each drink.

bar_ice

Meriko Borogove

An ice block used to make cocktails in a bar.

Being a home cocktail enthusiast, I thought my vintage ice pick would be the perfect addition to my bar. I imagined myself hosting cocktail parties, and instead of fumbling with large bags of corner-store ice, I would deftly chop glittering cubes off an ice block to impress my guests. The wood-handled pick had the perfect look to match my style: a promotional item from the National Ice and Cold Storage Company of California, a company around during the first half of the 20th century, it promised in bold black letters that “A Block of Ice Never Gets Out of Order.”

You know when you think something is going to be really easy, and then you realize you’re in way over your head? I first got that feeling after watching Japanese ice ball carving videos online; it dawned on me that I was destined to puncture my hand.

chipping_ice_pick_etsy

Sarah Lohman

To start, I filled a large, square plastic container with tap water and froze it overnight. I thawed it and smacked the bottom against my countertop to dislodge air bubbles. I froze it again, and then unmolded a semi-clear block of ice. I began hacking away at my ice block, but I wasn’t producing anything close to usable ice chunks; instead, I was simply making a big mess. Ice chips flew all over me, the kitchen floor, the cat, and the living room couch, then melted into messy puddles.

Although I could visualize myself deftly carving off cubes of ice, it just wasn’t happening. I decided to try to carve off a large chunk of ice. Using a hammer and a flat head screwdriver, I tried to score a large cube from a corner of the ice block; it shattered into a triangular chunk. I attempted to use my ice pick to chip the triangle into a sphere. I ended up with a piece of ice roughly the size and shape of a smashed goose egg.

By this point the counter and floor were covered with a growing pool of icy water. This block of ice was out of order! I instantly gained a monumental respect for the nimble bartenders who had instantly and skillfully filled my glasses with gorgeous ice gems. Determined to cut my losses, I gathered up the chips of ice, stuffed them into a glass and made myself a cocktail.

ice3

Sarah Lohman

Gin Fizz Punch
Inspired by the “Sloe Gin Fizz” from Sloppy Joe’s Bar Cocktails Manual, 1932

I love gin in a summer cocktail. If you think you don’t like gin, try an American gin; they tend to tune down the juniper (pine) flavors and focus more on citrus. I love locally produced Brooklyn Gin, and this drink is also exceptional with Averell Damson Gin Liquor, a gin infused with the juice of damson plums.

The juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sugar (or simple syrup)
1 oz strong green tea
1 oz gin
1 oz seltzer

Fill a tumbler with ice. Add the first four ingredients and stir. Top off with seltzer.

Iittala Niva Glasses Designed by Tapio Wirkkala
Iittala Niva Glasses Designed by Tapio Wirkkala
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3 Featured Comments

  • MerCurios

    MerCurios from MerCurios said 5 years ago Featured

    My great grandfather was an "Ice Man". Growing up I would hear the stories of him pushing his Ice Cart through the streets of Ridgewood (Queens) NY. Him yelling in the streets.. "Ice-a Man, Ice-a Man" in his heavy Italian accent up and down the streets, and carrying the heavy blocks of ice up several flights in the six family homes that lined the neighborhood. Not necessarily relevant to the article I know, but I can help it. The ice pick evoked the memories... :)

  • BewitchingVintage

    BewitchingVintage from BewitchingVintage said 5 years ago Featured

    I can remember my grandmother using an ice pick whenever she was defrosting the freezer. The old refridgerators' freezers were a pain to defrost and sometimes they collected so much ice/frost you needed an ice pick to get something out of the freezer. It wasn't an art, but there sure was a lot of new "language" thrown around when something got stuck in there. I remember it well!

  • losethecurse

    Sara from HiraganaAmericana said 5 years ago Featured

    I just love your articles on the historical and anthropological significances of these lost art forms. In my personal postcard collection, I have a few of ice harvesting-- men cutting out giant chunks of ice from a local lake. Ice is something we definitely take for granted nowadays! Keep the great posts like this coming. :)

50 comments

  • StayArtisan

    J.K. Ramirez from HudsonBlueArtisans said 5 years ago

    Ice, we take it for granted... but it sure can make the drink.

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    Great story! Ice sculptures have always fascinated me too. The details are incredible!

  • cheapnchicvintage

    Samantha Palmer from MissMagnoliaVintage said 5 years ago

    I think I'm way too clumsy and uncoordinated to use an ice pick. Think I'll leave that one to the pros!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 5 years ago

    The lost art of ice picking! Great article.

  • MerCurios

    MerCurios from MerCurios said 5 years ago Featured

    My great grandfather was an "Ice Man". Growing up I would hear the stories of him pushing his Ice Cart through the streets of Ridgewood (Queens) NY. Him yelling in the streets.. "Ice-a Man, Ice-a Man" in his heavy Italian accent up and down the streets, and carrying the heavy blocks of ice up several flights in the six family homes that lined the neighborhood. Not necessarily relevant to the article I know, but I can help it. The ice pick evoked the memories... :)

  • TheSilverPlatter

    Denise from TheSilverPlatter said 5 years ago

    Excellent feature! Thank you for sharing the art of this skill.

  • dragonhouseofyuen

    Annette from TheLeveretsNest said 5 years ago

    ha ha! that's really funny, I reckon I would really be needing a drink at the end too :)

  • catchaleaf

    eva andrews from catchaleaf said 5 years ago

    Thanks for a very entertaining article! I am fascinated by ice because it is a beautiful, intriguing substance – it inspires my glass sculpture heads.

  • richdon1

    Rich and Dona from TheCottageMouse said 5 years ago

    Thank you Sarah for starting my day off with a good laugh. Love the post, great story and great recipe. I will have to try making the drink. It sounds very good...

  • SPAULEY

    Susan Pauley from SPAULEY said 5 years ago

    Ice picks scare me, but your article entertained me. Thanks!

  • Parachute425

    Terry from Parachute425 said 5 years ago

    Several years ago, a young neighbor stood, fascinated, as I popped ice cubes from a tray for our drinks. She had never seen ice cubes made this way, as their family had an automatic ice maker. She thought we were very clever. We now have an ice maker of our own but I kept the trays. We fill them with coffee or juices and add them to our drinks.

  • natwara28

    Nutwara Pumrung from iSthai said 5 years ago

    Thank you good idea

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 5 years ago

    LOL... I love the old photo of the boys licking the ice....

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 5 years ago

    There is dark and excellent basement place called "Marvel Bar" in the warehouse district in Minneapolis. The bartenders have been thoroughly schooled in Mixology and the tending arts - this is their passion. When making chilled concoctions, they use a large glass-snowball-looking chunk of ice, and pick away at it incessantly, dropping of the frozen slivers into each glass. Theirs is a fine craft and extremely entertaining to watch.

  • mirabellamorello

    mirabellamorello from mirabellamorello said 5 years ago

    Ah....lovely, lovely ice....we have silicone ice trays and are devoted to them, but I always have to make certain and keep some in a bowl in the freezer when we expect guests because they seem to baffle everyone but us! I did find an old ice pick when cleaning out this house that had belonged to my great-aunt. You know what it is used for? As a small hole-punching tool in my art supplies! I do think the art of chipping ice into usable cubes with an ice pick is just that...an art form!

  • jessgreenleaf

    Jess Greenleaf from GREENLEAFblueberry said 5 years ago

    The history of ice as a product is really interesting. Bill Bryson had a section about it in At Home.

  • DarburyCottage

    Rosemary Wascher from DarburyCottage said 5 years ago

    Ahhhh just the photo's make me feel cool on this hot day.

  • admspeicher
  • thejoeknoxcompany

    Camilla from TheJoeKnoxCompany said 5 years ago

    Thanks for the interesting feature! My great-grandfather also delivered ice. (In Philadelphia, about 100 years ago.) He sometimes took my grandfather along. When putting the block of ice in someone's icebox, he'd occasionally help himself to a drink. If there was enough; he told my grandfather, "You never take a man's last beer."

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 5 years ago

    Super cool :)

  • Selkiechick

    Selkiechick said 5 years ago

    I absolutely marvel at the skill with ice the bartenders at both Stoddards and Drink display!

  • myword38
  • JewelrybyDorothy

    Dorothy from JewelrybyDorothy said 5 years ago

    Interesting story! Thank you for sharing!

  • Ghadah1

    Ghada Hassan from MyGDesigns said 5 years ago

    Very interesting article. Thank you!

  • BirdEnergy

    Genise Park from GeniseParkArts said 5 years ago

    Interesting story, did not know about ice. We have come a long way!

  • Leschatsdecouleur

    Maria Puig from Leschatsdecouleur said 5 years ago

    Great story! Ice sculptures have always fascinated me too. The details are incredible! Thank you for this article!!

  • NicolasKnitKnacks

    Nicola and Jessica Belton from CelticKnittingCo said 5 years ago

    Great story very interesting!!

  • GracefullyGirly

    Kimberlee from GracefullyGirly said 5 years ago

    Wow, that drink sounds delish! My mom collected antique kitchen items and I remember the old ice tongs she had. We are so fortunate to have ice so easily!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 5 years ago

    Great!

  • recycledwares

    Nerrissa W from RecycledWares said 5 years ago

    I cooled down just reading this post. It's funny that looking at pictures of ice and reading about ice can have such an effect.

  • lilyblueboston

    Caitlin and Lily Edge from lilyblues said 5 years ago

    Great read.

  • BewitchingVintage

    BewitchingVintage from BewitchingVintage said 5 years ago Featured

    I can remember my grandmother using an ice pick whenever she was defrosting the freezer. The old refridgerators' freezers were a pain to defrost and sometimes they collected so much ice/frost you needed an ice pick to get something out of the freezer. It wasn't an art, but there sure was a lot of new "language" thrown around when something got stuck in there. I remember it well!

  • deekish

    Deeksha Lakshmi from TheColorWagon said 5 years ago

    Interesting! I never thought of ice cubes in this way!

  • deekish

    Deeksha Lakshmi from TheColorWagon said 5 years ago

    Interesting! I never thought of ice cubes this way! This gives a totally new perspective to them!!

  • Waterrose

    Rose Waterrose from Waterrose said 5 years ago

    what a great story. my dad talked about growing up and following the ice truck on its rounds waiting for ice chunks to fall off (ice guy in back would purposely give the kids those chunks)

  • patspottery

    Pat Parker from PatsPottery said 5 years ago

    60 years ago, when I was a child, my grandmother had ice delivered by an ice man for her ice box, and she used an ice pick to get pieces of ice for us. Wow, etsy, you sure are good at bringing back memories I had forgotten:>)

  • sarahyoung525

    Sarah Young from SarahYsCottage said 5 years ago

    Great story. I remember the fine art of filling the metal ice trays way back when. Too much water and you ended up with a bent or broken handle. To little and you got ice slices. Then ice picks could puncture the freezer of the fridge when doing the dreaded defrosting.

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    Interesting and nostalgic article!

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 5 years ago

    Fun post....I remember using ice cube trays...Before ice makers!! Don't use them anymore...Love my ice machine.....

  • susio

    Susanne Ryan from TheFeltedGnomeKnows said 5 years ago

    Best use a hack saw for perfectly square ice.....

  • emberair

    emberair from EmberandAir said 5 years ago

    I love the throwback theme of this post!

  • Fiume

    Erin O'Rourke from Aruguletta said 5 years ago

    Great story! I thought it was going to end with your eventual mastery of the ice pick, but alas! Keep at it, maybe you just need practice.

  • Pixie2428

    Doris C. from SewBeautifulbyDC said 5 years ago

    A great story. Thank you for sharing it with everyone.

  • H88255

    H88255 from HillarysSuperfoods said 5 years ago

    Ice makes drinks cold!

  • poplovedesigns

    Andrea Hughes from PopLoveHers said 5 years ago

    If I did have enough for a big 'ol block of ice in my freezer, you can be sure that it'd be sitting there waiting for my weekend cocktail indulgence! However, as things stand now, my freezer is usually full of a week's worth of pre-made dinners, frozen snacks and other goodies. So while I really do prefer those cute little chips of ice that are unleashed by an ice-pick on a block, I'll have to settle for simple ice-cubes from a tray!

  • losethecurse

    Sara from HiraganaAmericana said 5 years ago Featured

    I just love your articles on the historical and anthropological significances of these lost art forms. In my personal postcard collection, I have a few of ice harvesting-- men cutting out giant chunks of ice from a local lake. Ice is something we definitely take for granted nowadays! Keep the great posts like this coming. :)

  • irinisklavounou

    irini from IrinisWorld said 5 years ago

    Come on we're makers! The first thing i expect to do is make a mess. It's the art of reading the mess and wading back into battle with a better angle that will tell. You don't get that easy familiarity and masterfully awe inspiring results without a certain persistance. So heft that pick and mix those drinks.....I read somewhere that it has to do with cleavage, so maybe it also helps what dress you wear...

  • Nemki

    Nemki from nemki said 5 years ago

    Unusual article, many thanks :)

  • newhopebeading

    newhopebeading from newhopebeading said 5 years ago

    My father used to tell stories of following behind the iceman's truck begging him to throw small pieces down to him and his friends on hot days in West New York... Hudson County NJ. He remembers, nearly 70 years later, how kind the man was that he used to give the boys pieces so they could cool off. I often think of this, that this small kindness from a man whose name he did not even know is remembered by my father so many years later. It makes you think that your actions.... even the small ones... really do matter to people.

  • korenkwan

    Koren Kwan from GarasuWonderland said 4 years ago

    interesting article, enjoy reading it~

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