Over-thinking simple pleasures

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This week’s post is about simplicity, the value of not trying to be too clever and letting taste do the talking.



A proper custard base using eggs, best brown sugar, cream and evaporated milk should set up two trial batches of Rum and Raisin ice cream good and proper.

The samples photograph well, no? They taste great and yet, and yet and yet….?




Crackling does not trade in restaurant reviews (although there is an alter ego occasionally unleashed on Urban Spoon) and tries to avoid look-what-I-ate pieces as other bloggers do that far better. There are no pictures of kittens nor puppies and no gratuitous recipes. The point of a Crackling post is to help me get my head around a food science / production issue or food producer person that has caught my attention.

So why was I so keen to write about rum and raisin ice cream? It is delicious, a doddle to make and turned out just as expected with no obvious room for food science or technology in the results. Nor is there any great reveal behind how the flavour combination came to be – rum is flavoured by yeasts fermenting on the molasses left over from sugar production and aged in barrels which originally held wine, therefore grapes, and so raisins. No molecular gastronomy fiddler has fiddled with it in a significant way recently and it carries no new health claims so why is it the subject of a post?




One lot of raisins soaked in Havana Club rum and one lot soaked in non-alcoholic natural rum essence are added to the traditional custards base. The two versions are dished up at the Crackling family dinner table to round off a meal of slow cooked ribs, kale, rice and peas. All dishes are licked clean. There are no comments on the quality, texture, taste, presentation, innovation or ingenuity. Not much to post about. But I have been so keen to make this dish for months now, there has to be something to write about.

While the family is clearing the table, but avoiding the dishwasher, I take two more samples of the booze-rich and the rum-essence-in glycerine varieties and perform a sensory analysis. Closing my eyes I begin concentrating on hedonic ranking and rating, preference and acceptability and the sea breezes from the English Channel. Excuse me? Back to the food science.




While the kids’ version shouts rum’n’raisin ice cream very loudly it doesn’t taste of any kind of rum I would put in a cocktail. The Havana Club soaked version only tastes of hot, spicy floral rum when the raisins are burst in the mouth. Eureka – that is the issue, the point of the piece: The raisins soaked in artificial rum essence are chewy not tender. Right, lab coat on, Pro Quest data base logged in to, let the research begin!

The pairing of Rum with raisin does not yield fruit in the advanced search box. No dice. Why are those artificially flavoured raisins chewy? I turn to the index of Harold McGee’s encyclopaedia of kitchen science, food and culture to see if he can throw me a bone:  He reveals that at a low concentration alcohol enhances the release of fruity esters (that has to be a drag queen Chemist’s stage name somewhere, surely) and other aroma molecules in to the air. However, the flavour pathway is not air-based in ice cream as it would be in a cocktail or a mousse, for example.




Perhaps it is the glycerine of the Natural Rum Flavouring Essence in the kids’ version that renders the raisins hard. Glycerine and its freezing point, could that be the answer? Haagen Dazs uses only rum and not glycerine carrying an essence, Walls does use a glucose syrup along with the rum.
Can’t be the glycerine causing the hardening as it is an ingredient in antifreeze.

Perhaps the rum is the reason? Chemistry and rum, rum and chemistry + Google brings up Joy Spence.


Ms Spence received the highest marks ever from the chemistry department at Loughborough University for her Masters Degree. She returned to Jamaica and found her way to the beverage business as chemical adviser and later chief chemist to distillers J. Wray & Nephew.  She supported the Master Blender for 17 years before she was ready to take over and found herself the first ever female Master Blender in the global spirits industry, working on Appleton’s Estate Jamaican Rum. The qualities that make Joy Spence a Master Blender are exceptional sensory skills, creativity and knowing all the nuts and bolts of the rum manufacturing process and patience1.

What a fantastic way to apply food chemistry, kudos to you Joy Spence. But that won’t get to the bottom of textural discrepancies in my samples. Taking another two spoonsful I try and separate the raisins in each from the brown sugar caramel custard and nibble and squash on the roof of my mouth them to compare textural qualities versus flavour characteristics. I look like I am chewing a wasp.


Very quickly a powerful connection via the olfactory nerve kicks all the food technology theories and sensory perception rankings to the kerb and it becomes quite clear why I wanted to make rum and raisin ice cream in the first place.

Sometimes, the motivation for creating a recipe or writing an article is a simple; I wanted to get back to a perfect English summer’s day and re-live the experience of enjoying rum and raisin ice cream cones on Boscombe Pier with my sister. Rum and raisin is our father’s favourite ice cream kiosk choice and he would always let us have a taste when we were little girls. I get homesick and miss my family dreadfully sometimes, It is a simple as that.





1. Interview retrieved form Harpers Wines and Spirits Trades Review






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