Our Winter has been impressive. The ice on the local pond is nearly strong enough to support a person. Yesterday an epic storm gave an excuse to enjoy the season. I ended up getting very wet and cold, but for whatever reason you learn to love the Winter if you grow up in a place like Montana. The season is a good time to sit back and read. Last night as I tried to see if I could still remember a favorite poem by Robert W. Service, I remembered a great short story by Ambrose Bierce.1
In 1933 the Tuscany tied up at a dock in Calcutta with a most unusual cargo. Financed by Frederic Tudor, it was a dramatic proof of concept of an idea that seemed daft when originally proposed.
A few decades earlier Tudor had one of those consuming ideas. He didn't have any experience in science or engineering, but he became fascinated by the New England practice of cutting pond and lake ice during the Winter and storing it for months in straw insulated underground ice houses. Often the ice would hold out as long as July and be sold at a profit. He reasoned that ice could be insulted and put on fast boats to the Caribbean and sold to the landed gentry to chill their drinks. Armed with an enthusiasm that others considered a lack of common sense, Tudor bought a brig and hired a crew to cut ice from a place near Walden Pond.
The Favorite set sail on February 10, 1806 from Boston to Martinique with its cargo of frozen water insulated with straw. Much of the ice survived the 1,500 mile journey, but he had neglected to build an insulated ice house on the receiving end and most of the cargo melted resulting in a big loss.
The papers caught wind of the loss and Tudor became a laughing stock. The whole notion created cause for story telling. Decades later Ambrose Bierce got into the act:
From Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, to Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, December 2, 1877.
I will not bore you, my dear fellow, with a narrative of my journey from New Orleans to this polar region. It is cold in Chicago, believe me, and the Southron who comes here, as I did, without a relay of noses and ears will have reason to regret his mistaken economy in arranging his outfit.
To business. Lake Michigan is frozen stiff. Fancy, O child of a torrid clime, a sheet of anybody's ice, three hundred miles long, forty broad, and six feet thick! It sounds like a lie, Pikey dear, but your partner in the firm of Hope & Wandel, Wholesale Boots and Shoes, New Orleans, is never known to fib. My plan is to collar that ice. Wind up the present business and send on the money at once. I'll put up a warehouse as big as the Capitol at Washington, store it full and ship to your orders as the Southern market may require. I can send it in planks for skating floors, in statuettes for the mantel, in shavings for juleps, or in solution for ice cream and general purposes. It is a big thing!
I inclose a thin slip as a sample. Did you ever see such charming ice?
From Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, to Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, December 24, 1877.
Your letter was so abominably defaced by blotting and blurring that it was entirely illegible. It must have come all the way by water. By the aid of chemicals and photography, however, I have made it out. But you forgot to inclose the sample of ice.
I have sold off everything (at an alarming sacrifice, I am sorry to say) and inclose draft for net amount. Shall begin to spar for orders at once. I trust everything to you--but, I say, has anybody tried to grow ice in _this_ vicinity? There is Lake Ponchartrain, you know.
From Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, to Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, February 27, 1878.
Wannie dear, it would do you good to see our new warehouse for the ice. Though made of boards, and run up rather hastily, it is as pretty as a picture, and cost a deal of money, though I pay no ground rent. It is about as big as the Capitol at Washington. Do you think it ought to have a steeple? I have it nearly filled--fifty men cutting and storing, day and night--awful cold work! By the way, the ice, which when I wrote you last was ten feet thick, is now thinner. But don't you worry; there is plenty.
Our warehouse is eight or ten miles out of town, so I am not much bothered by visitors, which is a relief. Such a giggling, sniggering lot you never saw!
It seems almost too absurdly incredible, Wannie, but do you know I believe this ice of ours gains in coldness as the warm weather comes on! I do, indeed, and you may mention the fact in the advertisements.
From Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, to Mr. Jabez Hope, in Chicago, March 7, 1878.
All goes well. I get hundreds of orders. We shall do a roaring trade as "The New Orleans and Chicago Semperfrigid Ice Company." But you have not told me whether the ice is fresh or salt. If it is fresh it won't do for cooking, and if it is salt it will spoil the mint juleps.
Is it as cold in the middle as the outside cuts are?
From Mr. Jebez Hope, from Chicago, to Mr. Pike Wandel, of New Orleans, April 3, 1878.
Navigation on the Lakes is now open, and ships are thick as ducks. I'm afloat, en route for Buffalo, with the assets of the New Orleans and Chicago Semperfrigid Ice Company in my vest pocket. We are busted out, my poor Pikey--we are to fortune and to fame unknown. Arrange a meeting of the creditors and don't attend.
Last night a schooner from Milwaukee was smashed into match-wood on an enormous mass of floating ice--the first berg ever seen in these waters. It is described by the survivors as being about as big as the Capital at Washington. One-half of that iceberg belongs to you, Pikey.
The melancholy fact is, I built our warehouse on an unfavorable site, about a mile out from the shore (on the ice, you understand), and when the thaw came--O my God, Wannie, it was the saddest thing you ever saw in all your life! You will be so glad to know I was not in it at the time.
What a ridiculous question you ask me. My poor partner, you don't seem to know very much about the ice business.
Most people would abandon the ice shipping business, but Tudor pushed ahead and secured a monopoly in Cuba and built an ice house in Havana. The first trip to Cuba was still a loss, but close enough to success that he was encouraged. He gave away ice samples in bars hoping to create a demand and tried again. And again. And again. In six years he had lost enough to land in debtor's prison.
A normal person might give up hope, but Tudor was learning with each failure. He became something of an expert in practical thermodynamics and realized heat flows from warm to cold regions rather than the other way around and that he needed to be concerned with conduction and convection. He worked out that sawdust was a much better insulator and that there was a need for cutting the ice smoothly so it could be packed tightly in the ship's hold. He began to turn a profit.
By the time the Tuscany made it to Calcutta Tudor was a wealthy man. Shipping ice had become practical, but a disruptive invention appeared about the same time and was perfected enough in the next several decades to mostly eliminate seasonal ice storage and long distance shipments.
Short distance shipments were still needed through the 1930s as businesses and people had ice boxes to chill their food. Refrigeration at the home scale began to become practical in the 20s and 30s.2 My mother remembered deliveries from the ice man during the depression when they could afford it but a home refrigerator was well beyond their means. She knew she wanted one and it was a future she was counting on.
Fortunately the family couldn't afford an early model as the units used toxic refrigerants.3 DuPont introduced Freon in the late 20s and over the next decade home refrigerators became much safer - at least within the home.
The development of refrigeration has a curious history if you are inclined to reading about emerging technologies. A guy named Clarence Birdseye was another one of those curious people who made a dent in the way we live. Mark Kurlansky's recent biography is a more than fun read.
Refrigeration is usually accomplished by removing heat from a refrigerant and then allowing what you need chilled to come in thermal contact with that material. The process is inefficient takes a lot of energy. A great way to heat a room is to open the door of your refrigerator and freezer. A heat pump cools the outdoor air (or water) with the "waste" heat being used for heating. For those that live in an area with the right climate it can be a very efficient way to heat a house.
There are a number of neat ways to cause extract heat from a substance. There isn't time to do anything but list a few: ultrasonic freezers have been investigated - Ben and Jerry's even toyed with the concept with Penn State, thermoelectric refrigeration has seen some use and you may have one to take beer and sandwiches to the game, laser cooling is used to reach extremely low temperatures and magnetic refrigeration has been a holy grail for some for about 130 years. It always impresses me how the fundamental understanding of many physical processes precedes even early engineering attempts by a long time. Scientists and their funders often have no idea what a fundamental discovery might be good for and even those who make early practical implementations often miss how their invention will be used.
The other trigger for this post was a video from GE on their current prototype of a magnetic refrigerator. In theory this could be more efficient and environmentally benign than the compressor based units in your house and car. Traditionally this required an expensive rare earth, but people have been focusing on less expensive alloys... Perhaps you'll buy one in twenty years.
1 Robert W Service wrote poems that are particularly attractive to Middle School age kids. Jeri and I can both recite The Cremation of Sam McGee - the quintessential 7th grade poetry experience in parts of Montana and a great read during the Winter.
2 One of the first refrigerators came from Frigidaire in the late teens. In 1922 a home model with nine cubic feet of space sold for about twice the price of a Model T Ford - perhaps half a good middle class income. It was temperamental and required special plumbing for its water cooled compressor as well as the availability of electricity - something that was rather expensive at the time for an appliance that was always running and using a lot of power.
3 Most of the early refrigerators used sulphur dioxide as the refrigerant and leaks caused blindness and skin burns. The other major refrigerant was methyl formate, which was even worse.
It turns out much of the quality of ice cream is determined by the size of the ice crystals that form in it during freezing. Large crystals form if the churn-freeze phase is slow - you want to quickly and uniformly move as much heat as possible from the ice cream mixture. I find getting a freeze in ten minutes or less works out fairly well and it is useful if you "season" the newly churned batch in the coldest possible temperature. Unfortunately setting your freezer to -10°F or colder can cause expensive mechanical failure (guess how I learned? I shoot for -5° to 5°F these days in interest of avoiding $500 repair bills).
The best home results are probably obtained with a fairly spendy dedicated ice cream freezer, but nothing under $1,000 will beat a conventional salt and ice churn. I recommend White Mountain, having gone through three lessor freezers over the years. If you have kids a hand crank is fun, but if you don't I recommend a motor. There is some fun instrumentation hacking you can get into if you are so inclined.
I was interested in great ice cream and can't afford a commercial blast freezer. The trick is to use a lot of liquid nitrogen (you can use dry ice, which is easier to obtain and somewhat safer, but if you are crazy enough for that you might as well go all the way). To do so you'll need a supply of LN2 and a dewar. Advanced cooks are beginning to use dewars as LN2 is useful for other food preparation, but we're talking exotica and you can seriously injure yourself if you aren't careful. So I'll just say I've had excellent results mixing by hand as well as pouring the LN2 into a Kitchenaide. A "home" LN2 ice cream freezer a great engineering class project or even a Kickstarter idea (hint, hint - Jan and Jeff). I use thick rubber gloves, goggles and a heavy long sleeved shirt when making the stuff. I used to be able to get access to a dewar and LN2 where I worked, but that was a long time ago. Now I need to borrow a dewar elsewhere and find liquid nitrogen at a welding supply. I generally try to have about 4 or 5 liters of LN2 on hand for a liter of ice cream. The process is very mad scientist and impressive. No more detail as you really need to know what you're doing to go this route, but the ice cream is amazing.
This is a very simple and good french vanilla - a good starting point for experimentation. Of those that use eggs I tend to prefer the non-custards .. eg - raw eggs are used. This is ok if you can pasteurize your own eggs or find a source. I used to do it myself, but now use Safest Choice. These are also useful if you sample cookie dough:-)
Simple French Vanilla Ice Cream
° two large pasteurized eggs (eggs are probably fairly safe, but I strongly recommend pasteurized eggs for anything raw or undercooked)
° 400 g white cane sugar
° 2 cups whipping cream - try to stay away from ultra-pasteurized cream as the flavor isn't as good
° 1 cup whole milk - also stay away from ultra-pasteurized
° 2 tsp high quality vanilla extract (you can also scrape vanilla beans)
° whisk the eggs in a bowl until they are light and fluffy
° whisk in the sugar a bit at a time until completely mixed
° pour in the liquids and whisk to blend the mixture
° churn freeze to the manufacturer's instructions