(Many thanks to Ambeth Ocampo, Felice Prudente Sta Maria and Paquito dela Cruz for filling in the gaps)
My birthday present in 2018 was to be allowed to touch the newly-returned Balangiga Bells in Samar. In the Philippines it is the duty of the birthday boy or girl to supply cake and ice-cream. And thereby hangs a tale.
Years ago Philippine historian Ambeth Ocampo, writing in the Inquirer, mentioned that sorbet or ice cream, for our purposes the same technology, was served at the Independence Day celebrations in September 1898 and wondered how they made it.
To me the answer was by using an ice cream maker, called as garapinyera in the Philippines, consisting of a wooden pail filled with ammonium chloride surrounding a metal rotatable container. Add water to the chemical, put water or cream and flavouring into the metal container and churn it and one has, after a little effort, ice cream.
I was, almost certainly, wrong. Or maybe not.
Wish-listing in Balangiga about an imaginary coffeeshop with my film-producer friend, Michael Sellers, who funded a lot of historical research into the so-called ‘Balangiga Massacre’, and I chatted about the menu. He suggested halo-halo because it seemed that with the ice or ice cream it represented a union of the Philippines and the United States on the assumption that it was the Americans who brought ice to the Philippines.
Then I came across a reference to sorbet vendors in the streets of Manila in the 1880s which suggested it might have been more commonly available than supposed before the building of the Insular Ice Plant in 1902.
As if to confirm it, I came across a picture of an ice cream vendor from 1900 and it seemed unlikely that he would have used an ice maker of the kind I had suggested for commercial sales.
And the first American ice cream parlor in Manila opened, using condensed milk before the Insular Ice Plant opened in 1901-1902.
Oh, and the Tagalog word for ice, ‘yelo’, derives from the Spanish ‘hielo‘, suggesting that Filipinos became familiar with ice under the Spanish regime.
As is often the case, those intriguing tidbits sent me on a search for the history of ice and ice cream in the Philippines.
Now the chase was on to follow the yelo brick road by way of the origins of ‘dirty ice cream’, a Manila red-light district, a war of independence, Japanese brothels and a deadly typhoid epidemic in the 1920s
Our first stop is on the other side of the world: New England in the early 19th century.