TT: Ice Is Nice!

JANE: So, Alan, I promised you more about ice cubes.  Here you are.

Ice cube making experienced its first revolution when I was a kid.  My first memories of ice cube trays are of cumbersome aluminum things with removable dividers.

Trays Cool

Trays Cool

One filled the tray with water, put the divider in, and set it to freeze.  Theoretically, when the water had frozen, you were supposed to pull a lever in the center of the divider and the cubes would pop free.  This rarely happened (often because the water in the tray had expanded while freezing and jammed the lever).  Therefore, one would end up running water over the tray to loosen the ice enough to raise the lever or break the cubes free.

ALAN: That’s right! I remember now. We had those same aluminium trays. Sometimes you had to run so much water over them that the ice you retrieved hardly seemed to be worth the effort.

JANE: Those are the ones!

When the first plastic ice cube trays came in, we adopted them with enthusiasm.  Not only did they stack better than the metal ones had done (that lever often got in the way) but since the plastic was slightly flexible, you could give the tray a twist and the cubes would pop free.  Occasionally, one might need to run a little water over the bottom of the tray to help this along but, even so, it was a vast improvement.

A variation on this sort of tray is what Jim and I use today.

ALAN: That’s what we’ve got as well. Interestingly ours have two different designs. One makes ice in the traditional cubic shape and the other makes triangular ice, a bit like a slice of pie. I much prefer the triangular ice cubes (it sounds silly to call a wedge shape a cube, but that’s how I think of them) because the tray flexes much more easily than the cubical tray does, and so it’s easier to get the ice out. I’m sure that’s because of the differently shaped ice.

Fortunately, both shapes cool the drinks equally well…

JANE: I’ve never seen a tray for the wedge-cube.  I’ll need to look for one.

These days, many Americans don’t use ice cube trays at all.  Instead, they rely on built-in ice cube makers on the front of their refrigerator/freezer units.  These supply both chilled water and ice.  Since the door to the unit doesn’t need to be opened, these devices are considered energy saving.  However, since they are also the part of the unit most likely to break, I’m not sure how cost effective they really are.

Given what you claim is a British aversion to ice, do you guys have automatic ice makers there?

ALAN: I’ve no idea what happens in the UK (remember I haven’t lived there for more than thirty years) but certainly fridges with built in ice makers do exist in New Zealand. They tend to be quite expensive. When we moved to our new house, we bought a new fridge.  We considered getting one with an automatic ice maker, but we couldn’t really justify the extra few hundred dollars so, in the end, we just went for an ordinary fridge-freezer. We have four ice trays in the ice making compartment. Four! Luxury!

JANE: Four is what we typically have in our freezer, too!  Gee, we’re really in sync.

There’s been an amusing new technological development that may threaten the primacy of the built-in ice cube maker – at least for those who like to entertain in style.  This is the silicon ice cube tray.  Have you seen them?

ALAN: I don’t think so. Tell me more.

JANE:  Okay.  These are really very nifty.  (I was going to say “cool,” but feared I’d be accused of punning.)

Instead of being limited to ice cubes in the shape of rectangles, these trays make ice “cubes” in various interesting shapes.  One of the most common is hearts (for Valentine’s Day, romantic dinners, or weddings), but I’ve seen smiley faces, fish, shamrocks, and even shark fins.

ALAN: Ah, those! Yes – we got given one as a present. It makes ice in the shape of Pac-Man sprites. However, we put it away in a drawer and forgot about it because the individual Pac-Man ice shapes were far too small to be useful.

JANE:  I have noticed that many of these “cubes” do seem to be smaller.

Another newly popular trend is for reusable ice cubes.  These are liquid-filled plastic shapes that can be refrozen repeatedly.   Spheres seem to be the most common shape, but I recall seeing a mixed fruit assortment and, I think, stars.

The obvious advantage to these is that they will cool a drink without diluting it.  This makes me wonder – maybe the British aversion is not to ice, but to diluting perfectly good spirits!

ALAN: Well indeed. Why would you want to dilute them? Mind you I’m talking from ignorance here. I seldom drink spirits apart from the very occasional post-prandial brandy. And anybody who chills brandy is a barbarian!

JANE: I do know that single malt whisky is supposed to be slightly diluted, because this releases the “esters,” whatever those are.  Jim puts in a cube or so of ice, but many people simply add a little water.

ALAN: A friend of mine who is a whisky drinker always puts in a few drops of water for that very reason, so I suppose that it must be effective.

We used to have some of those solid shapes, but eventually I threw them away. They were long skinny things which I think were supposed to be used as swizzle sticks, stirring and cooling at one and the same time. But they kept falling through the holes in the freezer trays (our freezer trays are a wire mesh design) and that annoyed me.

JANE: That would annoy me, too!

There’s another trend related to ice I want to tell you about,  but I think I need a tall glass something cold with lots of ice.  How about next time?

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3 Responses to “TT: Ice Is Nice!”

  1. Peter Says:

    The nice thing about reusable solid ice cubes (mine are, in fact, cubes) is that they’re easier to fit into the freezer than a regular tray if you have limited free space, since you can pack them around whatever else is in there (and don’t have to worry about the tray being too long to fit if you have a very small freezer compartment).

  2. James M. Six Says:

    Ice “cube” shapes sometimes go too far. A few years ago, I attended the traveling Titatnic exhibition. It was quite moving, to be able to understand what life on ship was like and what they faced as it sank.

    And then, after the exit, was the gift shop … with ice cube makers in the shape of little icebergs and little Titanics so you could “sink the ship in your drink!”

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