The place known for its intolerance to sin and bitter penalties – the Inquisitor’s Palace in Vittoriosa – had a sweet side too.

While offenders were being punished and sentenced in the upper floors of the grand palace, cooks were preparing ice cream in the kitchen downstairs – a cool treat in the Maltese heat.

The kitchen complex at the palace is likely Malta’s best documented early modern kitchen.

Inventories drawn up in the 17th and 18th centuries are proof that the place was fully equipped to cater for the inquisitor’s refined tastes and his desire to impress important guests and feed his retinue and inmates.

Much like today’s Papal Nuncio, the inquisitor was the representative, or apostolic delegate, of the Pope in Malta. His other role was that of supreme judge of the Holy Inquisition.

His kitchen had a multitude of utensils typical of lavish tastes. Between 1664 and 1759, it had the necessary equipment to keep ice and freeze ice cream. By 1798, the inquisitor owned several ice cream containers intended to cater for entertaining his guests.

Ice cream utensils painted at the refectory in the Archbishop’s Curia, Floriana. Photo: Daniel Cilia, courtesy of the Archbishop’s Curia, FlorianaIce cream utensils painted at the refectory in the Archbishop’s Curia, Floriana. Photo: Daniel Cilia, courtesy of the Archbishop’s Curia, Floriana

Consumption of ice cream offered the Maltese, especially the nobility, a moment of relief from the smouldering summer heat.

According to food researcher Noel Buttigieg, there are 17th- and 18th-century references to foreigners who were impressed with the common consumption of cold drinks and ice cream.

Malta was renowned for its warm climate, with Inquisitor Fabio Chigi, who later became Pope Alexander VII, resorting to importing sunglasses, and Roland de la Platiere noting in 1776 that “ice is drunk all year round in Malta”.

It has also been documented that following an inspection of the Order’s naval fleet in the second half of the 18th century, Grandmaster Manuel Pinto da Fonseca ate ice cream, Dr Buttigieg added.

This dining practice for the fortunate few was made possible through the importation of large quantities of snow and ice from Sicily. In order to freeze the ice cream, salt had to be added to the ice to lower the temperature.

In a bid to instil life back into the once busy kitchen at the palace, Heritage Malta is holding a series of historic cook-along sessions, with researched recipes that have been adapted for contemporary cooking habits.

The first such sensory experience was held last year on the subject of chocolate and coffee.

On October 13 and 20, Dr Buttigieg will explore the subject of ice cream in 17th-and 18th-century Malta, while chef Josef Baldacchino will be conducting a historic cook-along session of two 1740s ice cream recipes.

The event scheduled for October 13 is already sold out.

Tickets for the October 20 antique ice cream event can be booked through http://shop.heritagemalta.org/index.asp?eventid=291 , and more information can be obtained on 2166 3731.

Ice cream à la Michele Mercieca (1748)

• Mix together one litre of milk, 200g sugar, 12 egg yolks and 120g biscuit crumbs.

• Whisk mixture well to ensure all have dissolved.

• Place on low heat and warm slowly.

• When the mixture thickens slightly, remove it from the heat and mix in one tablespoon rose water.

• Allow to cool and place in freezer. Mix from time to time to avoid it turning into one solid block. It takes almost a full day to finish the process.

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