A Knickerbocker glory! Mmmmmmmmmmm!! When I was growing up in Scotland, we used to go to a seaside town called Largs, situated on the west coast, just north of Troon and Ayr. Largs was famous for two things. One, a monument called the Pencil, which, as its name suggests, was a tall thin stone structure, built to commemorate those who fell in the battle of Largs in 1263. This monument, which was erected in 1912, has become an icon in the town, and is situated just next to Largs pier. The other, and in my opinion, more important feature in Largs, was Nardini’s ice cream parlor, placed right on the sea front, (it’s actually the Firth of Clyde), and famous for it’s knickerbocker glories! Nardini’s was opened in 1935, by an immigrant family from Italy, who just knew how to make the very best ice cream. Because Largs, at that time, was a popular destination for tourists leaving Glasgow and other towns in the central belt of Scotland, Nardini’s soon became an institution, and a MUST visit place when passing through on the way to the isle of Cumbrae and the holiday resort of Milport! Milport, used to be THE place to go, but that was before Stelios Haji-Ioannou started EasyJet, and probably many years before the Greek Cypriot had even contemplated a move into the airline industry. The ship workers of Glasgow, and often most of the blue-collar brigade, used to dream about Milport in the summer months, and flock in their thousands to spend time on this secluded, underpopulated Island, that is now, largely forgotten due to the ease and lure of inter-continental travel.
The Nardini family were the Baskin Robin, or the 35 flavor, before any of these companies existed. There was no Haagen Dazs, no Ben and Jerry, none of the other brands you see in every supermarket and refrigerator today. Nardini pioneered ice cream in Scotland, and along with his soon to be Fish n Chips, Italian style, he was so far ahead of his time, people just fell in love with his innovation and entrepreneurship. I recall, as a child, being led along a freezing cold sea front by my parents, dressed in a blue short-sleeved shirt and shorts, with the wind blowing 30 MPH on a late summers evening in 1968. My dad looked at me and said “You must have blue blood Alan. It’s warm, not cold, and you look freezing!” It was probably 60 degrees, and that would have been the high that evening. We, as a family, were on our way to what was about to become my favorite haunt, Nardini’s ice cream parlor. My dad had made it perfectly clear that if I didn’t shut my mouth and stop complaining about the chill in the air, I wasn’t going to get a Knickerbocker glory. At 9 years of age, I had no idea what the heck that even was, but had been assured, on more than one occasion and probably as part of a bribe of some sort, that this was going to be the best thing I had ever set eyes on. And, you know what? It was! It was love at first glimpse. I remember walking into this building, where ice cream just flowed. There was a huge, well it seemed huge, glass covered ice cream bar, and when I was elevated by my father so that I could actually see over the counter, I was bamboozled with all the colors, all the regimented beauty, all the magnificence, of all of the different ice cream’s that adorned this new-found paradise. It was heaven! To the back of the bar there was a seating area, filled with small round tables, all very 1950’s and all seemingly filled by other families munching away at their various treats, all engrossed, all intensely fulfilled and all desperate for more! This seating area had room for about 150 people, and as far as I can remember, the menu just sang obesity! In these days however, we were all thin, all except me, with my so-called puppy fat!
We lined up at the front and after admiring all those fantastic colors, each one containing a unique flavor, my father asked me if my sister and I would like a Knickerbocker glory. WTF is that? I remember asking, without the profanity of course. And this, my friends, is what appeared.
Scoop after scoop of deliciously creamy ice cream followed by nuts, fudge, chocolate and fancy decorations. What you, over here in the US, would call an ice cream sundae. For me, at the tender age of 9, this was a miraculous concoction, pulled out of a hat, put together with love and care and then served up in a tall thin glass, with whipped cream dripping over the edge. Hungry yet? I sat back, admiring this picture perfect treat take shape, and then, reluctantly, I began, with my sister, to demolish this wondrous art form. I say reluctantly, but truly, I was pigging out within seconds of my Knickerbocker glory being presented to me on our table. My mum and dad just smiled proudly, as Ruth and I began our journey to the bottom of that glass, with bBarbara, the youngest of the three, joining in when allowed. Step by step, inch by lovely inch, we devoured the lot, even taking a straw at the very end, to suck out that which had inexcusably melted! We were stuffed, we were happy, we had become instantly addicted! Who wouldn’t be? Right?
That evening, on our drive back to Glasgow, which took about 45 minutes, I lay in the back seat of my parents car, stomach bloated, but so so very happy to have been fortunate enough and deserved enough to have partnered up with such an incredible delight. I yearned for more, and more would surely come. Over the years, we visited Nardini’s on a regular basis, regular enough to keep me completely satisfied and so obviously intrigued with my new-found desert. Largs is not what you would call the center of any particular universe, but it had become the center of mine. Every summer, and sometimes even in the winter, we would make that journey, at least three to four times, just for an ice cream. I passed my driving test at 17, 6 weeks after my birthday, and one of the first things I did was to drive to Largs and devour a Knickerbocker glory. Yummy!!
Nardini’s went into liquidation a few years ago but the local authorities declared the building a national heritage site and wouldn’t allow it to be demolished. Investors were found and the building restored to all its former glory. It now serves not only ice cream, but steaks and fish and other nice meals. I haven’t had the opportunity to return there in more than 15 years, but I long for another Knickerbocker glory and a reminder of how it was when I grew up, not how it is now, with all this plastic packaged crap we put up with. I am on my knees now, salivating over the picture I have posted below. I might just have to buy a round trip ticket to Scotland this weekend, unless my 12 step program kicks into effect and I can alleviate these cravings within the hour! Happy happy days!!