Agnes Marshall - the woman who invented the ice cream cone

Black and white photograph

Inventor and entrepreneur Agnes Marshall was a Victorian celebrity chef. She founded a cookery school, wrote cookbooks, and published a magazine,'The Table'. Nicknamed ‘Queen of ices’, she is credited as having invented the ice cream cone.

Beth Daley (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Ingenious recipes

Behind its inconspicuous cover, a cookery book named The Book of Ices from 1885 guards many delicious, tongue-tingling treats. See if you can read the subtitle without your mouth watering: The Book of Ices including cream and water ices, sorbets, mousses, iced souffles, and various iced dishes, with names in French and English, and various coloured designs for ices.

Self-published by her own School of Cookery and priced at half a crown in 1885 (about €0.13 in today’s money), the book shows how to make, mould and freeze ices, as well as how to make custards for cream ices. Would you like yours ‘Very rich’, ‘Ordinary’, ‘Common’ or ‘Cheap’? Agnes offers recipes for all these variations!

The book boasts ice recipes for the kinds of flavours you might expect, like banana, vanilla and strawberry, as well as more unusual ones like brown bread, rice, tea, white wine, and ‘spinach à la crème’.

As you can see, not all of her recipes were sweet. Take ‘Souffles of Curry à la Ripon’ as an example, which includes fish fried with butter, onions, herbs, sour apples, coconut and almonds, which is then boiled with milk, lemon, curry powder, curry paste, saffron and tamarind, before being pureed and mixed with whipped aspic and cream to thicken, put into paper souffle cases and frozen, then served garnished with prawns.

Incredible inventions

The Book of Ices is only part recipe book - its other purpose was to promote and sell Marshall’s inventions.

The Marshall’s Patent Freezer, designed by Agnes and patented by Agnes’ husband, Alfred Marshall, could freeze a pint of ice cream in less than five minutes.

Page 56. An advertisement for Marshall's Patent Freezer featuring two illustrations. One 'Complete view' showing a circular wooden boc with a turning handle in the centre. Two, a 'Vertical section' showing 'the fan inside, which remains still while the pan revolves and scrapes up the film of ice'.

The Marshall Ice Cave was an insulated box for storing ice cream - a little like the cool box you might take camping.

Page 57. Advertisement for Marshall's Patent Ice Cave. Illustration shows a rectangular box with a handle, with a door at the front standing open. Inside is a shelf. The text describes its use and prices for different sizes, ranging from £1 11s 6d to £4 4s.

As well as these inventions, Marshall’s book advertises three variations of an ‘Improved ice breaker’, as well as moulds of various designs. Agnes designed over 1,000 different moulds in total. Would you like your ice or mousse shaped like a hen on her nest of eggs, or as a cauliflower? No problem! ‘Moulds for these designs can be had of A.B. Marshall.’

Page 39. Illustrations of moulded ices in the shape of a hen on her eggs, a filled woven basket, a cauliflower and an ostrich egg.
Page 52. Illustrations of ten moulds: duck, swan, dove, bunch of grapes, cauliflower, hen, fish, pineapple, basket of flowers, bunch of asparagus

The first recorded recipe for an ice cream cone

In another of her cookbooks, Mrs A. B. Marshall's Cookery Book, published 12 May 1888, we find what might be her most influential recipe of all - ‘Cornet with Cream’.

Wafers date back to ancient times, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly when they started being used for ice cream. There are some earlier hints of ice cream cone-like creations - see the following painting by Debucourt from 1807, in which at the bottom right you can see a lady eating something that looks a lot like an ice cream - but the first hard evidence comes from Agnes Marshall’s book, which is why she is often credited as being the inventor of the modern ice cream cone.

A large room with chandelier and high ceiling. Many well-dressed people socialise, standing or at tables.

Marshall’s cornet recipe uses finely chopped almonds, fine flour, caster sugar, one egg, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of orange flower water, mixed to a paste. The paste is spread over greased baking tins, then briefly baked. Once baked, the cornets are quickly cut out of the paste and wrapped around a cornet tin to make the shape we know and love. Then baked again ‘till quite crisp and dry’.

To make them extra fancy, Marshall suggests to ‘Ornament the edges with a little Royal icing by means of a bag and pipe, and then dip the icing into different coloured sugars’.

Unfortunately, there is no picture in this book of the cornets. In volume 2 of Mrs. A.B. Marshall's larger cookery book of extra recipes, Marshall uses a number of cornets (coloured red with liquid carmine) inside a square mould to make what she calls ‘Fleur a la Florence’ which can be served ‘for a dinner sweet or for ball supper’.

Recipe for Fleur a la Florence, with an illustration of many filled cones arranged inside a square container.

And in her final book Fancy Ices, this recipe appears as ‘Margaret Cornets’, which are then used as the basis for both ‘Christina Cornets’ (filled with a vanilla ice cream mixed with ‘any nice dried fruits’ and ‘as much ground cinnamon as will cover a threepenny piece’) and ‘Dorothy Cornets’ (filled with champagne ice).

Book cover. Background of dark blue, with grey/black writing 'Fancy Ices by Mrs A.B. Marshall'. Illustration of a mountains and river setting, with a bear standing upright holding a tray of moulded ice.

Who was Agnes Marshall?

Agnes Beere Smith was born in 1852, an illegitimate child, raised in a poor part of the east end of London. She was brought up by her grandmother in Walthamstow and had three half-siblings.

Balck and white print of a young woman, well dressed, hair tied up, looking directly at us.

When her own daughter Ethel was born in 1878, Agnes was working as a domestic servant. A few months later, Agnes married Alfred William Marshall (who was not Ethel’s father), with whom she had three more children.

In 1882, the ‘Married Women’s Property Act’ came into English law, allowing married women to purchase property. In 1883, Agnes and Alfred jointly purchased their cookery school, which quickly became a success. Shortly after opening her cookery school, she was teaching high-end English and French cuisine to 40 students, five or six times a week.

It isn’t quite clear how Agnes learnt to cook. In the preface to Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book, she writes that her recipes are ‘the result of practical training and lessons, through several years, from leading English and Continental authorities, as well as a home experience earlier than I can well recall.’ Perhaps, as a domestic servant and kitchen maid, Agnes paid close attention and learnt on the job?

Agnes was adept at self-promotion as the advertisements in her Book of Ices show. In the preface to Mrs A.B. Marshall’s Cookery Book, she states that the book is ‘published at the repeated solicitations of some thousands of my old pupils’ and directs particularly interested readers to ‘Volumes V., VI., and VII. of the ‘TABLE’’ which ‘contain very many recipes of new dishes of my inventions’ but urges readers to hurry because ‘they will doubtless be shortly out of print.’

Her touring show A Pretty Luncheon in 1888 made her a household name across England. In it, Agnes cooked meals in front of large audiences (up to 600 people) to promote Mrs A. B. Marshall's Cookery Book. After an initial run of shows in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and London, Marshall went on tour again with shows in another 12 towns and cities. She also toured the United States but didn’t see the same kind of success there as she did in England.

Agnes died of cancer in July 1905. Her legacy of popularising ice cream in England, and the ice cream cone worldwide, lives on. And if you see chefs today freezing food quickly using liquid nitrogen - as in the clip below showing UK-based chef Heston Blumenthal's eggs and bacon ice cream - you can thank Agnes for that too - as she was the first person to suggest the idea!