Fancy Ices: Mrs. Agnes Marshall, Queen of Ices

The menu I chose is from the Hotel Algonquin’s restaurant. This menu was prepared to celebrate the “Joint Meeting of the Beacon Society Commercial Club and Merchants’ Club” dated November 23, 1920. From the menu of 18 dishes, I want to focus my research on the dessert, “Fancy Ices.” One of the most important contributors to the creation and making of Fancy Ices was Mrs. Agnes Bertha Marshall, who wrote two books about ices at the end of the 19th century. Mrs. Marshall is not famous today as she was a hundred twenty years ago; I find this very strange, as many of her fans do, and it seems unjust given her fantastic work and legacy, which I want to illustrate in this essay. I warn you that you may be surprised by her achievements.

The Algonquin Hotel

The story of the Algonquin Hotel is interesting because, between 1919 and 1930, this was the place where literary and theatrical personalities gathered for lunch during 10 years. These people influenced and shaped the artistic culture of New York City at that time.

Architect Goldwin Starrett designed the Algonquin Hotel in a popular time, Beaux-Arts style, which opened in 1902. Its red brick and limestone façade and characteristic bay windows sit on one of New York’s most prestigious streets, 59 West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. On November 23, 1902, the New York Daily Tribune wrote: “The Algonquin presents in claim for public consideration an excellent location, a superb design, modern fireproof construction, and a house and table equal to the demands of the most fastidious.”1 

Although initially planned as an apartment hotel, the owner decided to turn it into a hotel and named it “The Puritan.” Frank Case, the first general manager, objected to the name. After searching in the public library, he christened the hotel inspired by the Algonquin, the area’s native American population.2 Mr. Case assumed the lease in 1907 and then bought the hotel in 1927. Mr. Case remained owner and manager until he died in 1946. 3 

Mr. Case created a vision for the hotel as the center of New York’s theatrical and literary life, attracting luminaries of the time. In June 1919, the hotel became the site of a group’s daily meetings (mostly critics) of journalists, authors, publicists, and actors known as the Algonquin Round Table. The group gathered over lunch to exchange ideas, opinions, and often-savage wit that has enriched the world’s literary life. “The Vicious Circle,” as the group called itself, gathered for the next ten years in the Rose Room (today The Round Table Room) at a round table. Drama critic Brooks Atkinson observed, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”4 

Charter members included Franklin P. Adams, columnist; Robert Benchley, humorist, and actor; Heywood Broun, columnist, and sportswriter; Marc Connelly, playwright; George S. Kaufman, playwright, and director; Dorothy Parker, poet, and screenwriter; Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker; Robert Sherwood, author, and playwright; John Peter Toohey, publicist; and Alexander Woollcott, critic, and journalist. By 1930, the original Round Table members had scattered, but the so-called “Vicious Circle” remained alive in the mellow and pleasant memory.5  

The Round Table Room

When asked what became of the Round Table, Frank Case would answer, “The Round Table lasted longer than any other unorganized gathering that I know of.” Case continued. “I know of no other (group) where the percentage of success was so high. There was scarcely a man among them who failed to place his name high in the field in which he worked, and while perhaps I was rather casual, taking the whole thing for granted, I wasn’t stupid enough not to realize that it was a definite asset to the hotel in a business way, and a constant personal delight to me to be sure of the good company every day. That, I think, is one of the pleasantest aspects of hotel-keeping, especially if your hotel is small; the good companions, good talk, and general gaiety of life. You don’t even have to make any effort; it is delivered fresh every day, charges prepaid.”6

In October 1946, Ben and Mary Bodne of Charleston, South Carolina, bought the Algonquin for just over $1 million. The Algonquin was designated a New York City Historic Landmark in 19877 and a National Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries USA in 1996.8 Ben Bodne sold the hotel in 1987, and the Algonquin changed hands several times until, in June 2011, Cornerstone real estate advisors became the owner of Algonquin Hotel.9 

Algonquin Hotel 2011
Algonquin Hotel 2011

Fancy Ices

My research about Fancy Ices brought me to one of the most prominent cookers of her time, Mrs. Agnes Bertha Marshall. However, it is not only her books about Ices that are fascinating but also her multifaceted personality, entrepreneurial and marketing skills, her interest in technology, and her vision about refrigeration machines. 

Mrs. Agnes B. Marshall 

Mrs. Marshall was a very well-known cook a hundred twenty years ago. However, surprisingly today, she is not remembered except by those who closely followed her work and few collectors of old cookery books.

Mrs. Agnes Bertha Marshall - Circa 1891. Engraving by Eduardo Tofano (1938-1920). 
Weir et al., Mrs Marshall, 27.
Mrs. Agnes Bertha Marshall – Circa 1891
Engraving by Eduardo Tofano (1938-1920)

John Deith, who researched and wrote about Mrs. Marshall’s life, brings light to little known information about this great woman’s achievements. Mrs. Marshall was born in Walthamstow, Essex, on August 24th, 1855. Her father was Mr. John Smith of Walthamstow, and he was a clerk. Mrs. Marshall had at least one brother, and her father died at a relatively early age. Her mother, Susan, remarried Charles Wells. He was the father of four children, Eliza, Thomas, John, and Ada Wells, half-siblings of Agnes. 

Her formal education is unknown. She wrote in the preface of her book Mrs. A. B. Marshall Cookery Book: “Neither have any of the recipes herein being learnt or gathered from any books, but they are the results of practical training and lessons, through several years, from leading English and Continental authorities, as well as a home experience earlier that I can well recall;…” 

Agnes married Alfred William Marshall at Saint George’s Church, Hanover Square, on August 17, 1878. The couple set up a home in Saint John’s Wood, Westminster, and had four children. Ethel and Agnes were born in 1879, Alfred in 1880, and William in 1882.10 Mr. Marshall, in an interview with the Pall Mall Gazette in October 1886, said: “I should tell you that Mrs. Marshall has made a thorough study of cookery since she was a child and has practiced in Paris and Vienna by celebrated chefs.”      

In January 1883, Mrs. Marshall opened the “Marshall’s School of Cookery” at 31, Mortimer St., London. At that time, The Married Women’s Property Act had just come into force, so Agnes would have been able to buy and keep the school in her own right. Unusually for the time, Mrs. Marshall was not only the owner but also the business’s primary driving force. The school had warehouses and a shop where all kitchen equipment was for sale, including her unique ice cream machine and early freezers, also known as Ice Caves, refrigerators, ice cream molds, flavorings, and colorings, and other ingredients. She taught courses in making all manner of ices and general cookery at her cookery school in Mortimer Street in London.

Mrs. Marshall was a pioneer selling her “own brand” food and equipment, especially Marshall’s patent freezers, which she claimed as her invention and, later, refrigerators. In 1885, she published her first book, The Book of Ices, published by Marshall’s School of Cookery.

In 1886, Mrs. Marshall started her weekly paper called The Table, which was “a weekly paper of cookery, gastronomy, food amusement, etc.” throughout the rest of her life, Agnes contributed a weekly recipe page to the paper. During the first six months, she contributed a weekly article on just about anything. Topics included the “servant problem,” and the need for proper training of employers and employees, and the deplorable English catering state.11

Mrs. Marshall had an innate talent for an entrepreneurial approach to business and marketing skills. The cookery equipment, School, Magazine, and recipe books targeted the middle-rich and upper-class ladies who wanted their cooks or housekeepers to produce top quality dishes for their dinner parties. Mrs. Marshall advertised the provision of free estimates for the entire furnishing of kitchens according to modern cookery requirements. This advertisement shows her constant interest in technology and modernity.

To reach a wider audience and increase sales, Mrs. Marshall decided on a nationwide lecture-demonstration tour called “A Pretty Luncheon.” In 1891, her tour program included nineteen cities; her tours were successful, well attended (about 600 people per presentation), and reported in local papers. Each presentation consisted of a little more than two hours of demonstration and ended with eight appetizing dishes in front of her. When the tours ended, she was the most talked-about cook in England, and the publication of her new book was awaited with expectation. In 1892 she embarked on tours of the country to publicize her new third book Mrs. A. B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes.

In 1894 Agnes published her last book Fancy Ices, a follow-up to The Book of Ices published nine years before. In 1900 Mrs. Marshall bought out: Cowan’s Baking Powder: Lock, Stock, and Barrel, later known as Marshall’s Baking Powder. By the early 1900s, the first signs of cancer compromised her health. In 1904 she was thrown from her horse while out riding. She could not recover completely from this accident, and on July 29th, 1904, she passed away.12

By 1921 Marshall became a successful Limited Company and was diversified into multiple stores in many parts of England. Sometime in 1927 or 1928, the copyright of Mrs. Marshall’s books was acquired by Ward Lock Ltd. They published The Cookery Book and The Book of Ices but not the Larger Book or Fancy Ices. Marshall’s School of Cookery and The Table publication went on until the 1939 outbreak of World War II.11 Her books were out of print for a long time (almost 90 years), losing their excellent reputation except for those who collect and admire old cookery books.

Mrs. Marshall ‘s Legacy

According to Robin Weir, a long-life researcher of history and origins of food and particularly interested in ices, ice cream, and dairy foods, Mrs. Marshall was a real cook, a victim of circumstances that robbed her of the acclaim that she deserved. In the world of ice cream, Mrs. Marshall made four significant contributions:

First, she wrote two of the most important books ever written on ices, which popularized them among Britain’s upper and middle classes in the late 19th century.

Second, Mrs. Marshall sold and worked closely to develop a unique ice and ice cream making machine that she patented. Unfortunately, all the Marshall archives burned at the fire at Cassels, the owners of Ward Lock and Co. in 1955. 

Third, being the first person in the world known to record putting the ice cream or sorbet in an edible cone or cornet, around 1888. 

Fourth, being the first person to suggest the making of ice cream using liquefied gas in 1901 (shortly after its discovery).13

Ice’s Books

Before 1900 there were very few books written exclusively on ices or ice cream:

  • Emy; L’Art de Bien Faire les Glaces d’Office, Paris 1768.
  • Filippo Baldini; De’ Sorbetti, Naples 1775.
  • Thomas Masters; The Ice Book 1844.
  • Agnes B. Marshall, The Book of Ices, London 1885.
  • Agnes B. Marshall, Fancy Ices, London 1894.

Mrs. Marshall’s books made ice-making techniques available to a large audience.

Ice Cream Machines

The traditional ice cream device invented by Nancy Johnson in 1843 is in a wooden bucket. Mrs. Johnson’s machine has a tall container filled with ice inside and freezes the container’s ice cream or sorbet. The ice cream or sorbet is continually scraped from the container’s walls as it revolves around the stationary internal paddle. She patented this device on July 29, 1843, which predates Thomas Masters’ 1844 machine.

Mrs. Marshall Patent Freezer
Marshall, Fancy Ices, 8
Mrs. Marshall Patent Freezer

The unique feature about Mrs. Marshall’s machines was that they were wide and shallow; the larger they were, the wider they were. They ranged from 1 quart (40 fl oz) 25 shillings, 2 quarts 35 shillings, 4 quarts for 3 pounds, and 6 quarts for 4 pounds (1 pound in the 1900s is equal 34.05 pounds today). The machines’ unique quality was that the salt and ice were mainly under the pan and not up the sides as in Nancy Johnson’s type. Mrs. Marshall claimed that her machines could make ices and sorbets in three minutes. Usually, a tall machine could do it in 20 minutes.

The growth of ices’ home manufacture was made possible by the availability of these machines and the development of ice farming in America and Norway and the importation of ice into London by Carlo Gatti and the Wenham Lake Company Ltd.

The ice cream cone or cornet

Mrs. Marshall could be the first person who wrote about the edible ice cream cone. Nobody has been able to find an earlier reference to use wafers, almonds, or biscuit cones to serve ice cream. She wrote about them for the first time in her Mrs. A. B. Marshall’s Cookery Book. (Robert Hayes. May 1888. Page 329, page 402 in later revised editions)

Cornets with Cream: “These cornets can also be filled with any cream or water ice, or set custard or fruits, and served for a dinner, luncheon or supper dish.”

Although not mentioned in the Book of Ices, she refers to cornets in several places in Fancy Ices, 1894. People believe that Arnold Fornachou invented the ice cream cone at the 1904 Saint Louis World Fair, at St Louis, Missouri, United States, but Mrs. Marshall predates this by 16 years.14

Margaret Cornets

Margaret Cornets. 
Marshall, Fancy Ices, 135
Margaret Cornets

The cornets are made with “half a pound of ground almonds, 4 oz castor sugar in 4 oz of fine flour and two whole eggs, a salt spoon full of vanilla essence, and one tablespoon full of orange flower water”. The cornets are things filled with half ginger ice-water and half apple ice cream.

Making ice cream with liquefied gas

The Table, August 24, 1901. Mrs. marshals wrote:

“liquid air will do wonderful things, but as a table adjunct its powers are astonishing, and persons scientifically inclined may perhaps like to amuse and instruct their friends as well as feed them when they invite them to the house. By the aid of liquid oxygen, for example, each guest at a dinner party may make his or her ice cream at a table by simply stirring with a spoon the ingredients of ice cream to which a few drops of liquid air has been added by the servant; One drop in a glass will more successfully freeze champagne than two or three lumps of ice, and in very hot weather butter may be kept in better conditions on the table and make milk free from any suspicion of sourness by adding a drop of liquid air to an outer receptacle into which a jug or butter dish is placed. Liquid air will, in short, do all that ice does in a hundredth part of the time. At picnics, it would be invaluable, and surely ought to be kept freely on hand at hospitals”.

According to Peter Barham, an expert in physics and chemistry of food and cooking, in the April 1994 edition of Scientific American, an article by Herve This and Nicolas Kurti described a method to make instant ice cream by adding liquid nitrogen to the ice cream mixture.15 Mrs. Marshall, ninety years before, suggested using liquified gas as a coolant to freeze the ice cream mixture in seconds, which is remarkable.

Where or how she got her ideas? We could speculate. However, Barham suggests that she could get her ideas from James Dewar, a Scottish chemist, and physicist. During the late 19th century, James Dewar worked at the Royal Institution in London. He offered many public lectures of his research on properties of materials at low temperatures, for which he needed to liquefy nitrogen in large quantities. As a visionary, a woman ahead of her time, it is possible that Mrs. Marshall got her idea for making ice cream using liquid oxygen from one of these lectures. She most likely did not do it herself because it would have been challenging to obtain even a small quantity of liquid nitrogen for culinary use.

While researching information about Mrs. Marshall’s life and work, I became one of her fans. I believe that her determination, creativity, and imagination made it possible for a woman at that time, to navigate with success in a business world dominated by males.

Her impeccable public presentations show her as a knowledgeable woman with the ability to think quickly and calmly. She left this world relatively early, who knows what else she would have accomplished; knowing her restless nature, as she was always creating and making things possible.

If you would like to try and make some of Mrs. Marshall’s recipes, you can find her Fancy Ices book at this link: https://archive.org/details/b29314501/page/n9/mode/2up

Princess Christian Timbal 16

Notes:

  1. New-York Tribune New York N.Y., Online Resource. (New York, NY), November 23 1902. https://www.loc.gov/newspapers/?fa=segmentof%3Asn83030214%2F1902-11-23%2Fed-1%2F&all=true&sb=shelf-id&dates=1866%2F1924&st=slideshow#slide-11
  2. Frank Case, Tales of a Wayward Inn (New York: Garden City Publishing Co., 1938), 26.
  3. Stanley Turkel, “The Algonquin Hotel: Better than The Puritan,” ETurbo News (USA), November 8, 2020, https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.loyno.edu/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&t=country%3AUSA%21USA&sort=YMD_date%3AD&fld-base-0=alltext&maxresults=20&val-base-0=Algonquin%20Hotel&docref=news/17E9C4615A322570
  4. Turkel, “Algonquin.”
  5. Turkel, “Algonquin.”
  6. Turkel, “Algonquin.”
  7. Heller Anderson, “City Makes It Official: Algonquin is Landmark,” New York Times (New York, NY), September 20, 1987. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/20/nyregion/city-makes-it-official-algonquin-is-landmark.html
  8. Friends of Libraries USA. “1996 dedications”. Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20080506140823/http://www.folusa.org/outreach/landmarks-year/1996.php
  9. Turkel, “Algonquin.”
  10. Robin Weir, Peter Brears, John Deith and Peter Barham, Mrs. Marshall, the Greatest Victorian Ice Cream Maker (London: Smith Settle Ltd for Syon House, 1988), 11-12.
  11. Weir et al., Mrs. Marshall, 15.
  12. Weir et al., Mrs. Marshall, 24.
  13. Weir et al., Mrs. Marshall, 2.
  14. Weir et al., Mrs. Marshall, 5.
  15. Weir et al., Mrs. Marshall, 46.
  16. Agnes B. Marshall, Fancy Ices by Mrs. A. B. Marshall (London: Marshall’s School of Cookery and Robert Hayes, 1887) 70.

All illustrations (food, equipment, advertisements), unless noted otherwise, are from Fancy Ices by Mrs. A.B. Marshall.

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