The trend for serving flavoured ice originated in Italy and was brought from there to Versailles courtesy of a man by the name of Audiger. He had been sent to Genoa in the 1660's by Louis XIV to "intercept" recipes for liqueurs; that he did but he also brought back not only the idea of eating delicious ices but also the techniques to produce them.
The ices were flavoured by fruits, spices - even musk. Louis XIV immediately recognised the sophistication it would display if he could treat his courtiers to such a delicious "snack" at balls or soirees. Consequently, he had two ice houses built at Versailles in 1664 which kept the court supplied. These ice houses were enormous. Each one could contain up to 1.120 cubic metres of ice! During the coldest months the ice was naturally easier to come by - and keep frozen - and the Lake of the Swiss Guards provided plenty of ice for the ice houses. The ice formed on the lake would be transported by workers who would crush the ice with pick axes making it easier to transport.
|This is how ices were served|
Soon serving ices became a court favourite. At balls tall ice pyramids were served with fresh fruits and exotic spices. During the summer picnics beverages were often served in goblet made of ice (however unpractical that was).
As it happens, Louis XIV even included ices as a refreshment in his book "The Way to Present the Gardens of Versailles"; in this book he lays out a route which includes a stop at Marais where ices would be served which was also the case at the Three Fountains. The Duc de Saint-Simon mentions that the King even had ices served during his visits at the front - to the amazement of his soldiers.
|Ice-pail from Sèvres, 1778|
However, the enjoyment of ice soon spread to the rest of the French population and by 1700 it was widely sold. Some merchants found it irresistible to charge more than reasonably for their exotic wares which led to an edict from Louis XIV forbidding such high prices in 1701.
Two types of ices were enjoyed in the century of Louis XIV. One was made from frozen fruit pulp which the gardens of Versailles provided plenty of material for. Thus, courtiers could enjoy ices made from pineapple, apricot, orange, lemon etc. The other kind of ice was made from cream - what we even today call ice cream.
|Marie Antoinette's ice-house at Petit Trianon|
Louis XVI made it a habit to host dinners every Tuesday at which the guests would regularly be treated to a dessert of ice cream. By this time ice was usually found on the dining table in specially created ice pails - Sèvres often included one in their deliveries to the court. Actually, the production of such ice-pails were begun in the reign of Louis XV who sent one of the first to Empress Maria Theresia in 1758.
The Empress' daughter, Marie Antoinette, had a taste for ice as well and made sure to include a small ice house of her own close to Petit Trianon. Over the years it fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1990's.