Summer Love

I had a crush on him before I met him. Not a heart thumping, weak at the knees kind of crush…because I didn’t even know what he looked like. It was more a crush of intellect and intrigue.

I first heard of Ivan Day from a friend of mine, a Cambridge historian, who raved about his cooking classes in England’s Lake District. He was one of her mentors, a true scholar, a man of quirky, obscure knowledge. I knew from her description of him that we were destined to meet.

My opportunity arose with the French airline workers’ strike. Semi-stranded, bidding my time in Paris, eating too many buttery croissants and sipping café au lait, I moved on to greener, and I mean much greener pastures. I hopped the Chunnel in anticipation of meeting my crush and indulging in a weekend of Victorian Cookery.



16th century kitchen


Ivan fetched me from the Penrith train station. His charm and wit were just as I expected; his quick smile was an added extra. He graciously allowed my questions while entertaining me with stories, including how he chose his unusual career. It seems Ivan was in Greece in 1974 working on his doctorate in Botany when problems developed on Cypress. One day he went to school only to find the campus deserted, the university shut down. He was told to go home–the country was at war. Confronted with a fork in the road and no credit for his time already spent in class, Ivan made a decision. He left botany behind and started down a path of history, cooking, teaching, and collecting—that would be historical cookware.


ice creams-and-ices

Ice Creams & Ices


The next morning, sitting in Ivan’s 15th century cottage in Shap, I met my fellow students: the food stylist for Downton Abbey, a famed cellist, two instructors from England’s leading culinary institute, a food blogger and a couple from New York. Soon we realized what we all had in common: a crush on Ivan. I was not alone in my admiration of the man, nor was I the only person to hang on his words after he’d left the room.

Ivan shared with us his collection of historic cookbooks, many dating from the 18th century. However, we were studying Victorian cookery and would learn from Queen Victoria’s chef himself, using his original recipes. When Ivan told us that we would even tackle the wedding jellies, everyone in the room gasped in anticipation. I felt at home, surrounded by like-minded, nerdy, wannabe food historians.



Victoria’s Wedding Jelly


We entered the kitchen, a perfect replica from the 19th century, complete with period stove and cookware, from pewter ice cream molds to ceramic cake dishes. (Ivan collects for himself as well as many prominent museums all over the world.) We began our workday with an intricate raised meat pie. It was filled with astonishing ingredients such as pistachios and hardboiled egg yolks, and topped with black truffles and crawfish. While chopping and stirring, we discussed colonial trade routes, period trends and tastes, as well as the running of English estates a la Downton Abbey. It was a time of prosperity and England ruled the seas. Their grand houses served some of the most sophisticated food of the day and FYI–fusion cuisine isn’t new.



Making Raised Pie


We made homemade ice cream, with a puree of fresh strawberries, churned in an antique machine. We roasted meat, referred to as a joint, on a spit, timed to perfection by a wound up chain that slowly unraveled until it stopped and declared the meat medium rare. We made the wedding jellies, elaborate works with intricate molds…and they actually tasted good, really good, just like all the other food we sampled.



Baked and Dressed Raised Pie


At the table we gossiped and I mean good gossip: restaurateurs, celebrity chefs, working on movie sets: who’s difficult and who’s nice, late night calls from Francis Ford Coppola. I learned that Ivan challenged England’s top chef to an ice cream making match on TV, boldly declaring that no modern machine was better than Anges Marshall’s patented ice cream freezer from the 1880s. When he won hands down in only 3 minutes, the chef, using state-of-the-art equipment, threw a fit and told the show that if they aired the segment he would sue. He had to protect his reputation and being a loser wasn’t part of it.



19th century Sorbetiere with Spaddle


Ivan was full of great stories. His quick wit made up laugh, his food made us want more, his collection of 17th century wafering irons made us envious. My crush is only beginning. A single visit wasn’t enough. So, one day, maybe when there’s another airline strike, I’ll go back and hang out with the man I consider a “rock star.”



Setting Meat Timer

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply