[Historical Food Fortnightly is a year-long challenge series for those interested in historical foodways, or the study of how food, culture, and traditions have intersected throughout human history. Every fortnight a new themed challenge will be featured. As a participant, I take each challenge, select a relevant recipe, and prepare a historic dish. Please follow along, or join in yourself!]
Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time. He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn’t fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him. They ate in the zoo restaurant, and when Dudley had a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory didn’t have enough ice cream on top, Uncle Vernon bought him another one and Harry was allowed to finish the first.
– Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 2
I’ve wanted to try cooking from novels for ages now, so I was quite excited for this challenge. Actually, I can remember wanting to make the maple syrup candy from Little House in the Big Woods since I was about 6 years old. Unfortunately, there’s no snow here! So I went with another childhood classic instead – Harry Potter.
While I was doing research, I came across the knickerbocker glory. And with a name like that, I knew I just couldn’t pass it up.
To be honest, it’s the first I’ve heard of the dessert, but apparently the knickerbocker glory is a bit of a traditional ice cream treat in the UK. At least, this is what the internet has told me. And like most dishes, it has a bit of a murky history.
There are several theories about the origin of the name. Interestingly, the term “knickerbocker” first came into use in 19th century America. Derived from a last name, it first referred to Dutch-descended aristocratic New Yorkers, but eventually came to mean any New Yorker in general. In the 20th century, the term also referred to baggy-kneed pants. There was also a Knickerbocker ice cream company around in the same time period. It’s hard to say if the dessert was inspired by this company, pants, or New York in general.
Most simple histories of the dish cite it as a British classic, dating back to the 1930s. But in reality, the knickerbocker glory can be traced back to America to as early as 1903. A 1914 book even includes the 1903 recipe with the additional description, “A Sundae from New York.” While it’s still unclear how precisely the knickerbocker glory got it’s name, what does seem highly plausible is that – oddly enough – this now very British dessert had a distinctively American beginning.
Over time, the ingredients of the dessert have varied and today the knickerbocker glory can be comprised of any number of ingredients. This decadent modern version includes orange curd, honeycomb, and toffee sauce, while Foods of England also lists nuts and biscuits as possible inclusions. The main idea, however, seems to be a tall, layered ice cream dessert which includes fruits and whipped cream. There is also usually some kind of syrup and a cherry to top the whole thing off.
I decided to go with the earliest known version, as written in the 1903 recipe.
8. Literary Foods (April 8 – April 21) Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item.
(From May Byron’s Jam Book)
There were definitely good and bad points. Overall, it was better than I expected, actually. I was most worried about the rose, as it can be really overwhemling. It ended up being alright and actually complementing the raspberry nicely. The chocolate, vanilla ice cream, and raspberries went well together (no surprise there). The cherries were fine, although I don’t really like brandy. The biggest issue, however, was that this sundae is almost entirely whipped cream. It was just too much. It made it far too rich and what I really wanted from an ice cream dessert was, well…ice cream. I think if there was just another layer of ice cream in there to cut the whipped cream, it would be really great. So in conclusion, it was nice! I would eat it by choice, but I’m not sure I would make this exact version again.
- I used store bought chocolate syrup.
- I used frozen raspberries and mashed them a little myself.
- I used store bought vanilla ice cream.
- I couldn’t get rose essence, so I used a store bought syrup.
- I also couldn’t get brandied cherries, so I made my own using frozen dark cherries and a recipe from a similar time period.
- The recipe didn’t specify, so I left my whipped cream unsweetened.
- The recipe says to slightly mix the ingredients, but I found it looked much prettier with the separate layers.
May Byron’s Jam Book, 1917