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Posted on Fri, Nov 23, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

From Thanksgiving to enjoying... the dessert

By Wayne Baker

1119ov ice cream a century ago.jpg

WONDERS OF ICE CREAM SCULPTURE — LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY: Vladislov and Maria Sedletsky in 1901 (at top); along with images then and now of ice cream confections including a century-old ice-cream freezer, wooden kopystka spoons to shape the ice cream, home-made caramel ice cream, a chef carving ice with a knife and an example of hand-colored pulled-sugar decorations in the form of a flower.

TODAY, Dmitri Barvinok completes a week of Thanksgiving stories that have taken us far away—to reflect on the basics of life here, at home, today. Dmitri’s family homeland is Belarus. Read Part 1 for more background.

Here is Part 5, the last part …

This entire week, we’ve been ruminating on things we take for granted, like schooling, public safety, dignity and culminating on Thanksgiving with righteousness. Today, I hope you’re ready for dessert.

If there’s one thing that is easy to take for granted, it’s ice cream. Our ice cream is easy to move from the grocery store back to our house, where we have everlasting ice-boxes to keep them cool until the day we choose to eat them. Not to mention, we have countless flavors at our disposal, and that’s not counting sherbet and frozen yogurt.

For our final reflections this week, we now go back to Belarus again, this time to the Mogilevtsy estate. Before the Bolshevik Revolution changed everything and brought down aristocratic families, the estate was opulent: 37 rooms, including a library. The woman of the house, Vladislava Dekonskiya Marshilokova, was a regal presence. Her hair was long, past her waist, so she tied it into a knot on the back of head. Every evening, two maids took hairbrushes and brushed her hair for half an hour.

Vladislov Sedletsky, a distant relative of mine, was the head chef of the household, and his wife, Maria Sedletsky, was the head of the household. He managed to conjure up aesthetic and delicious meals on the faraway estate. But his specialty was ice cream. And, far more than the ice cream scoops or simple sundaes we enjoy today.

When guests arrived, Vladislov Sedletsky got to work. Ice cream creations needed to be done quickly, for obvious reasons. Vladislov made the ice cream on the spot, but then went above and beyond.

He would carve ice sculptures with a hot knife. Using a wooden spoon called a kopystka, he would cover the sculpture with the ice cream. Then, he would melt sugar and dye it with spinach for green or beets for purple and red. He wrapped the sugar onto sticks, held by two servant boys, in order to cool. Then, it was laid onto the ice cream.

Using the colored, pulled sugar confection, he liked to form the monogram of honored guests at the estate. These elaborate constructions had to be carried out into the dining room on a special stretcher. It was brought to the dining room table and the guests would stand and applaud the work of art.

That was prior to World War I—a century ago. Such a level of ice cream scuplture is rare, even today. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

What favorite food do you take for granted?

What kind of food is your favorite?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at ourvaluesproject@gmail.com or on Facebook.