The bitter cold wrapped around my grandparents’ house and created a thick frost over the windows. Throughout the countryside the wind howled through the treetops, and yet for all of winter’s elements, the radiators of their old farmhouse held strong, keeping the house a tender loving 79 degrees. Nestled below the staircase the kitchen was humming with activity and so while the rest of the children slept, I made my way downstairs.
“Raymond,” my grandmother exclaimed to my grandfather, “the power is bound to go out, and if it does, all of our perishables will be lost. I would stick them outside in the cold, but the temperature is just too erratic; we will use the ice room in the basement. Help me move those items to the cupboard for the night.”
I watched in amazement as my grandmother and grandfather moved food from the fridge down to the basement. For a moment I thought they hadn’t seen me, but as I turned to re-adjust myself, the creak of the staircase gave me away. “I think someone is up,” my grandfather said as he peeked around the kitchen entrance and, in a quick moment, he caught the glassiness of my eyes. “Michael, come on down here,” he whispered. Sneaking down the staircase, I made my way to the kitchen where my grandmother was holding a cooked chicken on a platter. “Well, you’re up; come on and help,” she said as she pointed to the items on the table. And just as I reached for a package of cold cuts, my grandmother’s prediction came to pass: the power went out.
My grandmother laughed a bit, my grandfather grabbed a flashlight, and together we made our way down to the basement. My grandmother said, “This reminds me of the ice men who kept Donbridge supplied with ice during the hottest summer of the town’s history.”
Following a mild spring, Donbridge began to experience a steady climb in temperatures unlike it had ever seen. The ice houses, which kept the majority of produce fresh through the year, began to melt and, therefore, something had to be done before the food supply was lost.
Samuel Tragger, an ice man and third generation in his family to have lived in Donbridge, was the only one who could save the town’s food supply. For you see, his family, through their skill and passed-along knowledge, held true to the values of community in understanding that food was the life source of all. But more importantly, the Tragger family had a secret.
It was well known that in the coldest of cold or even the hottest of hot, the Tragger family had access to an unlimited supply of ice; no one seemed to know how they got it or where it came from. Legend tells that a Lenape medicine woman gave Samuel’s great grandfather a secret map to special caves that had ice that had lasted from the last Ice Age.
When the ice had begun to melt in Donbridge, Samuel hitched his horses to three buckboard wagons and rode off into the wilderness with his three sons. Upon his return, Samuel brought back large blocks of ice that seemed blue. Strangely, a fourth wagon followed them that was not part of the original wagon party. Upon that cart a large block of ice lay covered in deer skins and beyond its frozen opaque coloration a creature seemed locked inside the ice. No one knew what to make of the creature as it looked to be an elephant with hair. Strange as it was, the townsfolk decided to keep it in a separate ice house until it thawed, but for the all the heat of the sun, the block stayed frozen and the animal locked in its icy prison forever.
When my grandmother finished her tale, she opened the cellar ice room door and there a massive block of ice stood before us. I loaded the soups and perishables upon the shelves and turned and looked upon the great ice block. As I gazed upon its sheer size, I winced, for at that moment, I could have sworn I saw an elephant locked in the thick murky ice. As I turned to ask my grandmother about the ice, she was quick up the basement stairs and hard about her work, caring nothing for the ice but worried for the food. “Come on, Michael, there’s nothing to see in that ice box that folks have not already seen for an age,” she said. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and continue on with my work, the ice shrouded in mystery.
Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Ice Box Cake
3 cups heavy cream, cold
1/2 cup confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
66 crushed chocolate or vanilla cookies
In a large bowl, use a hand mixer with a whisk attachment to beat the heavy cream. While mixing, whisk in the powdered sugar and vanilla until the mixture is stiff. Using an 8-inch springform pan, spread a thin layer of the whipped cream onto the bottom. Next, top each layer with a thin layer of crushed cookies. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have 4 layers. Finally, create a top layer of just the whipped cream and refrigerate. Cake should set for 4 hours in the fridge before serving.