'Wheelie' big licks for restored ice cream bike
- 22 July 2013
- From the section Scotland
With the good weather Scotland has been having recently, it is probably safe to assume that more than a few ice creams have been consumed around the country. But how did it used to be done?
The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum has unveiled a little bit of ice cream history, in the form of a restored 1930s ice cream bike.
Once a familiar, brightly-coloured sight around Scotland's towns and cities, this particular machine operated around the streets of Stirling, selling cones and wafers.
The city has a rich ice cream heritage; Scotland's first purpose-built ice cream factory after WWII was there and cafe proprietors, many of Italian origin, became famous for their own ice creams.
"It was quite difficult to actually pedal these bikes because they weren't geared, so if you were going uphill you were pedalling like mad," remembers Michael Giannandrea.
He is part of a wider family closely involved in the ice cream business. He cycled one of the ice cream bikes as a teenager in the 1950s round the streets of Stirling and the bike which has been restored was his uncle's.
"You were stopped fairly regularly and the one enduring memory that I have of it is being trailed by hoards of kids who were saying 'haw mister, gonnae geeza free cone?' No matter where your sympathies lay you had to make money."
Restoring the bike has proved to be a complicated process. In the 1990s, it had been rescued by a local bookseller and historian and was gifted to the Smith 10 years ago.
The recent restoration work was done in a small workshop near Stirling city centre by Recyke-A-Bike.
It aims to reduce the number of cycles going to landfill, as well as offering employment and training opportunities, but this was an unusual challenge.
There were many bits missing from the bike and it was difficult to tell which was the front and which was the back.
"We've had some 1930s and 1940s bikes donated and we managed to steal a few bits that fitted," says production manager, Rory McAllister, "but other than that we actually had to manufacture bits to complete the project.
"It was a lot of cleaning and painting and polishing."
The finished result is now being shown at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. It is keen to use the bike to highlight a part of the city's heritage - an ice cream heritage partly born out of the lush farmland which surrounds it.
"In the post war era, I think William Asher and sons were the first to set up a purpose built ice cream factory in Scotland and that was in the Drip Road of Stirling," says Elspeth King, the director at the Smith.
"All over Scotland, the Italians excelled at ice-cream production," she continues. "The Italian people came to Scotland, it was said, because milk was cheap and potatoes were cheap and so you got the origin of ice cream and chips."
The Allanwater cafe in Bridge of Allan was opened by one of those families in 1902 and is now run by the fourth generation of the Bechelli family.
On a busy, sunny lunchtime there is plenty of demand for the range of brightly-coloured ices on offer. At one time ice cream from the cafe was also sold from a bike, but like many others, it was not kept.
"Initially they sold soft drinks, probably coffee and the food they served then was not fish and chips, it was hot peas in nice, wee fluted dishes," says Maurice Bechelli, now retired from a working life in the cafe. Over the years he heard stories of how it used to be done.
"In the 1920s when they made ice cream, I think it would be made with a freezing mixture of a block of ice with salt, with a pot inside, stirred manually.
"In my time it was only vanilla ice cream that was sold. If you're talking specifically ice cream, obviously the better weather is the thing, but also the thing is, the Italians were open in the evening.
"People would come for a run in their car or in the early days there was a sign in the window that said the cyclists' rest."
Yet the selling of ice cream was not without its controversy, at least in the early days. Italian cafes were often open on a Sunday and that did not please some.
"It was said that the youth of Scotland were being misled morally, with boys and girls meeting together to eat ice cream together and on the Sabbath," explains Elspeth King.
"But the brightness that this brought to Scotland was widely appreciated by folk who loved having a good time and eating ice cream."