Look at the picture below, taken in the South-East London town of Brockley. This Victorian street ice-cream cart was a method for working class districts, such as Brockley, to have access to the sweet treat that was otherwise difficult to transport:
In Mrs Beeton's household management (2000 edition), she gives a method of home-making this type of ice cream using a freezing pot:
When the ice-tub is prepared with fresh-pounded ice and salt, the freezing pot is put into it up to its cover. The articles are then poured into it and covered over; but to prevent ingredients from separating and the heaviest of them falling to the bottom of the mould, it is requisite to turn the freezing pot round and round by the handle, so as to keep its contents moving until the congelation commences. (304)
The method is labour intensive with constant attention needed. Alternatively, an easier dessert could be crushed ice that is compounded into moulds with flavoured syrups added to them to create a "flavoured ice." This is essentially a sorbet and is much easier to make, although a lot more intricate.
This YouTube video shows TV personality chefs The Hairy Bikers attempting to recreate these iced desserts, with their chubby fingers demonstrating how delicate the ices actually were. Victorian balls would have displayed ices such as these ones for aesthetic value - and they do make a beautiful table centre-pieces!
The first written record of ice cream being served, as it is now known, is in Kate Colquhoun's book, Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking (2007). She claims that "a single sweetened cream ice was served to Charles II at the Garter Feast of 1671 at St. George’s Hall."
Because of the technicalities of preserving the ice in its frozen state, "James I had snow pits dug for storing ice cut from lakes and rivers in winter. Two brick-lined pits were constructed at Greenwich in 1620 and another at Hampton Court five years later."
The process of storing the iced desserts in out-building icehouses meant that it was a rare treat, served only in balls such as the ones in Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan and Eliot's Adam Bede. It was for this reason that they became so associated with extravagent displays; the flavoured ice signified wealth and good taste. Since the introduction of electricity and domestic chilling, however, we can now enjoy a whole pot of Ben and Jerry's Karamel Sutra from just one arm's reach away...
Beeton, Isabella. Household Management. Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2000. Print.
Colquhoun, Kate. Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007. Print.