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Jon Gower - Make Summer Arrive Early

Now that the golden hosts of daffodils are gracing parks and gardens we can properly celebrate spring and, as the days lengthen, anticipate brighter days to come. And if you can’t wait for summer itself I have a

way of foretasting its sunny pleasures. Have an early ice-cream or two.

This obviously calorie-laden plan came to me after my youngest daughter Onwy insisted we should check out this place on Cardiff Bay’s Mermaid Quay.

All her friends had been raving about it and then raving some more. So, on a gloomy day of pewter clouds and pelting rain we went down to Llanfaes Dairy’s outlet and had a gooseberry crumble ice-cream that catapulted me straight to June, that short month with its brief harvest of this delicious, oxalic fruit. A week later, on another blustery day of winds at the tail end of a storm, we

tried the same sort of sweet retail therapy and it was again cheering. Call me an amateur meteorologist, or

just call me greedy, but it worked.

The Welsh love affair with ice-cream goes way back. When the Sidoli family from Italy opened up a place next to Bessie Morgan the Draper, Ernie Davies the newsagent and Isaac the Butcher in Caerau near Maesteg in the 1920s, they were part of a marvellous wave of Italian café owners who would bring a bright little touch of the Mediterranean with them to the Welsh Valleys. In the early days the Sidolis would take the ice-cream around on a horse and cart, a four-legged forerunner of the ice cream van. My favourite such vehicle was one in the Rhondda, operated by a notably short man who adapted a rival’s well-known slogan of “Yipee! It’s Mr Whippy” to announce ‘Yipee! It’s Mr Titchy!’ and would proudly stand on a wooden box to serve you up a ’99.

The Sidolis later decamped to Porthcawl in the 1950s, where they were to eventually open not one but two ice-cream parlours, serving up knickerbocker sundaes and banana splits to holidaymaking miners and daytrippers who came on Sunday school trips or to enjoy the pleasures of the funfair. Ice-cream thus became synonymous with sunny days and seaside fun.

But the history of ice-cream in Wales goes much, much further back than the 1920s. You have only to look in the Welsh dictionary for evidence of that: the first recorded usage of the term hufen iâ was in 1856.

Since then it’s embedded in food culture with plenty of regional variety in Welsh ice-cream. the self-proclaimed “Home of Welsh Ice Cream” is Cadwaladers, a company that started life in 1926, when vanilla ice-cream was sold by the family from their Criccieth general store. Much like the secrecy surrounding what goes into Coca-Cola, the true ingredients for Cadwaladers was kept tightly within the family circle as handwritten notes regarding the

recipe attest, including such things as “6 lbs of I shan’t tell you” and the addition of “a great deal of love and care?” Stopping at their outlet in Aberaeron is for many a delicious travel ritual, with their honey ice-cream in particular having long made a buzz. Meanwhile, the good folk of Swansea swear by Joe’s, and their allegiance is made visible when you see the long lines outside their outlet on St Helen’s Road. Although you can also find it for sale in Harrods.

Your sweet toothed travels might take in Fortes in Llandudno, or sample key lime pie ice-cream at Caffi Patio in Llangrannog, swooning over salted caramel affogato in Contis in Lampeter or Bara Brith ice cream in Beaumaris which really takes the cake, or maybe that should be the Welsh cake. But for the most unusual ice-cream you’d have to plump for Hufenfa’r Castell in Harlech’s variety which is made with sea-buckthorn berries. It is a berry which is one of the favourite food items of winter thrushes such as

fieldfares and redwings but that are now leaving these shores. For spring is sprung, along with the snowdrops. And summer is available, one scoop or two.

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