So, when exactly is your perfect ice cream moment? Is it when that first restrained spoonful touches your upper lip, still smarting with salt from the sea? Is it tucking in, slowly, steadily, knowing that there is plenty left? Or is it perhaps dipping your finger into the tiny puddle that collects in the bottom of the dish at the very end?
And what is that first diminutive spoonful all about anyway? Perhaps we are just teasing ourselves, knowing that an entire ice cream lies in wait. Holding back at the beginning is all part of the blissful, indulgent pleasure of eating an ice cream. (Unless you are eating it with someone else.) There is much to be said for taking it slowly at first, spoonful by small spoonful. I start with a single, investigative lick, like a schoolboy who is not sure if he is going to like something. Of course there will always be those who go at it as if they have a train to catch, but they will regret it when theirs is all gone and we are still enjoying it.
For those who make their own ices, there are further pleasures. If you start with a proper custard - you don't have to, it's just a thought - then you have all the pleasures of making that; the gentle stirring, the slight unease of watching a pot of egg yolk, sugar and cream that could curdle in a heartbeat; the satisfaction when it doesn't. Then there is the crushing of the fruit, the slow churning and watching the mixture thicken in calm contemplation.
If you are making yours without an ice-cream machine, then you will have to learn to live with your impatience. If you can't be bothered even occasionally to turn the mixture as it freezes, carefully folding the ice crystals on the outside edges toward the middle, you will end up with an ice that sets in a solid lump. And when it has finally frozen, you need to wait again while it comes to the right temperature. (It is one of the laws of making ices without a machine that the finished product is either too liquid or hard as rock.) I am not convinced patience and ice cream can work in tandem. Perfectionists regard ice crystals as a weakness. I regard them as a treat. The occasional crystal is a smack of nostalgia as important to eating ice cream as a Flake used to be in your cornet.
You would be wrong to assume that ice cream has stood still. The most fragrant I have eaten recently was basil; the most refreshing an orange, grapefruit and Moroccan mint water ice, the most indulgent a Manjari chocolate one with raspberry sauce - surely a candidate for hedonistic dessert of the year, though strangely unsuited to a hot summer's day.
The future of ice cream looks exciting enough, with ever more fanciful flavours, yet I still think you have a long way to go to beat a properly made vanilla or a fresh fruit water ice. This summer has been the year of the gentle green ice cream, with mint and basil making an appearance at home. My only gripe is the vast quantity of leaves it takes to get a good herbal hit. I put 40 in my final mint version. The smell in the kitchen of making a mint ice cream is instantly cooling on a hot summer's day.
The only things I cannot tolerate are chunks of shortbread, caramel, cookie dough and the other sugary detritus that American firms chuck in their ice creams. In our house, the flavours might be unusual but I wouldn't join the throng that believes an ice is improved by the addition of crumbs from the biscuit tin.
After playing around with strawberry ice, adding pepper or balsamic vinegar to deepen the flavour, I have settled on a simpler approach, one of letting the berries sit for a while with sugar before they go in with the cream. The effect seems to be to concentrate their flavour without any other ingredient intruding. It's a method I warmly recommend.
And what is my perfect ice cream moment? I think it is probably passing someone an ice cream I have made myself, something I have had my own hand in, and watching them take that first, investigative lick.
Mint yogurt ice cream
Few ices are as refreshing as this one. The clean flavour is of fresh mint, so don't expect the usual creamy flavour you get in mint ice cream - this is brighter and sharper. A good ice for serving with fruit, particularly pineapple and strawberries. Serves 4-6.
1 lemon, unwaxed
40 large mint leaves
110g granulated sugar
400ml natural yogurt
200ml double or whipping cream
Remove three strips of peel from the lemon, about 3cm in length. Put them, the mint leaves and sugar, into a food processor and blend for a few seconds, until the lemon is finely chopped and you can barely see it.
Pour the yogurt, cream and the juice of the lemon in with the sugar and mix briefly, just to blend the ingredients. Then pour into the bowl of an ice-cream machine and churn till almost frozen. Scrape the ice cream into a plastic container, cover and freeze till needed.
If you have no machine, then scoop the mixture out of the bowl and into a shallow plastic container. Put in the freezer for an hour. Remove from the freezer and fold the ice crystals from round the edge into the middle, then return to the freezer for another hour, then repeat. Carry on, stirring once an hour until the ice cream is almost frozen.
If you want to eat the ice cream the next day, cover it with a lid, taking it out of the freezer 20-25 minutes before you need it.
The simplest and best. No other flavouring is needed for this straightforward ice cream, and one of the few that is worth making without an ice-cream machine. The ripeness of the berries is essential. I always marinate the berries in sugar for an hour or so before I make the ice, even though I have never heard of anyone else doing so. I believe it makes the flavour all the more intense. Serves about 4.
100g caster sugar
300ml double cream
Rinse the berries quickly under cold running water, then remove their leaves. Cut each berry into three or four thick slices and then put them into a bowl, sprinkle with the sugar and set aside for an hour.
Lightly whip the cream. You want it thick enough to lie in folds rather than stiff enough to stand in peaks. Put the strawberries, sugar and any juice from the dish into the food processor and whizz till smooth, then stir gently into the cream. How thoroughly you blend the two is up to you. I like to leave a few swirls of unmixed cream in the mixture.
Level the top, cover with a lid, greaseproof paper or clingfilm, and freeze for 3 or 4 hours. It is worth checking and stirring the ice as it freezes, bringing the outside edges into the middle. Remove from the freezer 20 minutes before serving to bring it up to temperature.
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