Date: Thu, 13 Apr 2000 10:52:19 +0100
Click Lick Quick
Free Ice Cream and the ingredients of pleasure
Like ice cream? Like free software? Feel the need for some kind of combination? http://www.bak.spc.org/ice is the web-site for you. Mark Greco and Simon Pope are the founders of this project to liberate 'the people's ice-cream'. Over the past few months, they and their ice cream maker have appeared at a number of events in London and Cardiff to dish out hundreds of coppettas of cow-milk, cornflour, vannilla and sugar. Cooked in varying proportions these are the basic ingredients of the tongue-pleaser. Check out the ingredients on a tub of corporate dairy-glue and you'll find a different story. They're not just about making popsicles rootsical though. On the web site you'll find evidence that the project of getting back to the base matter of ice cream is linked straight away into social histories and into possibilities for not only networking our cheap creamy pleasures but of finding ways that the cultures of food and of technology can learn from each other.
>On your web-site you talk about 'months of reverse engineering' ice cream. It's clear how a piece of software or hardware can be reverse engineered with relative exactitude. How can this be done to food? Surely what you're up to is more along the lines of forged t-shirts and perfume, in that you arrive at a reasonable simulation of the ice cream you are studying rather than a precise keyhole surgery on its composition?
What we got up to was more 'crack' than reverse engineering. We wanted to exploit a few flaws in manufactured ice cream -- that it contains superfluous shit and is proprietory -- but we also wanted to recover a lost (and inaccessible) recipe or 'source code'. Why does anyone crack third-party software? Probably because there's something in there that's annoying. Insulting even; like serial numbers or passwords. We like the *idea* of what commercial ice cream is -- cheap, popular, social food -- but can't stand what it *actually* is. Why is guar gum in there? Why the hell are flavour enhancers in there? We have the skills to crack third-party ice cream , but not to re-assemble it. We can't modify it in its native language or at the scale on which it is manufactured, so we aim to abstract the code so as to work with it at a domestic scale. We generated diagrams to help us understand the relationships between components, like some of the more arcane object oriented reverse engineering methodologies. We identified classes and the relationships between objects or ingredients. we generalised labelled ingredients into classes according to accepted formulations for commercial ice creams: milkfat, milk solids-not-fat, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers and flavours; then looked at the objects in each class and their properties. We found that some classes were useful only in mass-produced ices. there's a surprise. Since we're making small batches of the stuff, we figured on cutting them out. We're left with ingredients that can be combined in different ways. The more sugar, the more 'bite' for example. Change the property of the milk by heating it for longer and you get a thicker, sweeter ice cream. What we've got is a generative machine: we can make infinite recombinations of a few key ingredients. It proves that there's no natural, ideal state for ice cream. No original to copy. We can make it any way we choose, (and so can you). But it just so happens the one we've chosen make at the moment is VERY close to Mark's lost family recipe...
hmmm. maybe it's no accident that the top-notch cracker tool is called Soft-Ice.
>You're operating out of Cardiff in South Wales, an area with a particular regional pattern of post-war immigration from Italy - something resulting in some of the excellent, and no so excellent ice-cream parlours in the area. What is the place of ice cream in South Wales, particularly the Valleys?
There's a very close knit Italian commmunity in South Wales, mainly from the Bardi region, many of whom migrated via Manchester or London. One of the successes of these Italian newcomers was that they would deliver whatever was demanded by the local community, such as peas, pies and chips. Ice cream was one of the few truly homegrown Italian products that found a place in the life of the Valleys. There have been some massive changes in this region in the past few decades -- but on our daytrip round some of the existing parlours and cafes we found some evidence that ice cream is as popular as ever. Mr Creemy in Tonypandy was heaving with dairy enthusiasts on a cold, rainy Sunday evening in December.
>Mark, being an offspring of the world famous Greco ice cream family from Wakefield you've got a genetic download of ice cream knowledge locked into your bones. The history of all this is on the web-site. How does this project relate to the kind of ice cream your family made?
Memory has been crucial to the project: the recipe that we use comes from clues that my father gave me. For many years, the ice cream recipe had been lost, through family feuds and entropy; during the initial experiments we gave a taste to someone who remembered a rival's ice cream -- a rival from Wakefield. He described our recipe in terms of theirs. >From my father's description of how the ice cream tasted and its appearence we knew that the rival's recipe was close to that of the Greco's, so it was no coincidence when the taster mentioned this similarity, unprompted. From this point we knew we were on to a winner.
It was even reckoned by my Father that his type of ice cream just couldn't be viably made and sold anymore. We guessed that this was because it couldn't be stored for a long period of time -- it gets too icey -- and present health and safety regulations are so strict. One of the reasons why make it on a small scale and give it away is that this is a way around these limiting factors.
>Simon, you're a Devon boy, brought up on nothing but great clods of clotted cream and milk still warm from the udder. Is this a way of reprocessing your childhood pleasures in a more militant form?
Moving right along... I suspect that the glut of ice cream in the South West of England had something to do with the subsidies for milk production in the 70s and 80s. A handful of farms started to produce their own very rich ice creams from that time. Rocombe Farm is doing well now, so's Langage Farm. You'll see these as THE English ice cream in supermarkets in the UK. They're sold in small tubs, as 'rare' and luxurious items, at premium prices. Physically, you can't eat much of them as they're just too rich. So the small amount on your plate looks like a precious commodity; something to be savoured. A 'gourmet ice'. But what happened to the ice cream that was made for fun rather than luxury?
>You make a link on your site to the Free Software Foundation. You give the ice cream away free at various events. This coresponds to the 'Free Beer' version of Freedom. How does 'Ice cream for Everyone' tie in with the FSF's model of 'Free Speech'? It was was Richard Stallman who suggested we call it 'free'. This was after our first gig at the Foundry in Old Street, London, where 'free speech' was definitely influenced by the 'free beer'. We mentioned that we're going to invite people to extend the code base of the ice cream in whatever way they see fit -- so that it became 'Open Source' in some way -- but we bowed to Stallman, for obvious reasons, when he suggested "Not 'open source' ice cream; call it free ". To paraphrase the FSF, "Free Ice cream" is a matter of liberty, not price."
It's not that you don't have to pay for it, because we DO accept donations, but this type of ice cream is YOURS. This is Ice Cream for Everyone! A social food, rather than a insular, expensive self-indulgence. Stop watching Ally McBeal. Get out there and make ice cream.