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Ice cubes deserve our respect

Ice cubes
Ralph Gardner Jr.
Miraculous cubes, in repose

We’re a spoiled, pampered people. If you disagree with me I ask you to consider a felicitious feature of daily life that most of us take for granted -- our refrigerator’s ice maker. So did I until we recently acquired a new fridge without one.

There was the predictable fear and foreboding when we discovered that we’d have to make our own ice cubes. For years our fridge reliably churned out ice, both cubed and crushed, and I never gave it a second thought, let alone offered my gratitude.

But then our new retro fridge arrived and I was faced with a future without ice unless I stepped into the batter’s box, or rather up to the freezer, and took matters into my own hands. I’ve never discussed the daily division of labor with my wife – in a relatively equitable marriage such discussions are unnecessary, at least and until there’s a huge fight – but one solemn responsibility that’s fallen largely to me is refilling our ice trays.

I’m not saying she never does so. But left to her own devices I suspect that my spouse would let the ice container run dry before she realized we had a situation on our hands. My ice practice goes something like this: I empty four trays worth of cubes into the frosty container – there’s something satisfying about the racket of tumbling ice – and then return it to the freezer.

Now I carefully refill the empty trays, stack one atop of the other – sort of like a quadruple-decker bus -- and precariously return them to the freezer, trying to avoid spilling. Between the ice in the drawer and the soon-to-be frozen ice in the trays we’re prepared for every eventuality, including a national emergency and multiple thirsty guests; even a party, whether planned or impromptu.

It’s this daily, or perhaps alternate-day ritual that has made me come to appreciate ice in a way I never had before. I mean, I already knew how indispensable ice can be, for example in a soft drink or scotch on the rocks. But in its strange transformation from liquid to solid it’s one of the most expedient ways we have to interact with the miraculous.

Europeans, for some reason, don’t seem to appreciate the full majesty of that transformation. For all the continent’s contributions to civilization, one area in which they’ve fallen flat is in their failure to appreciate the invaluable role ice plays in enlivening a cold beverage.

It would be one thing if your Coke or Orangina arrived frosty. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It may just as easily show up tepid if not at room temperature and you’re expected to drink it without complaint. I don’t know how to explain this cultural difference. I’ve heard it theorized that the average European is a purist. They don’t want their beverages diluted. You know what’s worse than a mildly diluted drink? A warm Coke.

Maybe Europeans will finally come to their senses now that they’re regularly experiencing brutal climate change-caused heat waves from spring into autumn. But I’m not holding my breath. I’m not as bad as my father once was, and that my brother remains. While traveling abroad, my dad’s favorite restaurants knew to deliver a large bowl of ice to the table without him having to ask. My brother hasn’t yet requested his own ice bowl – I predict it’s only a matter of time – but things can go south fast if his Coke arrives roasting and his ice cubes, if the waiter even remembered to supply them, melting.

Having appointed myself the family’s ice man has given me a new found appreciation for this naturally occurring crystalline solid. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. The ritual of refilling the trays also raises a question, in equal parts aesthetic and practical: what is the ideal size of an ice cube?

The temptation is to fill each chamber to the top. Then you run the risk of the cubes being too large; or being able to fit only one or two in a glass. Smaller cubes are probably better if your intention is to maximize the surface area of the ice that comes into contact with the beverage of your choice.

My wife, at my request, recently bought me jumbo ice cube trays. We’ll have to see how that works out. The theory is that larger cubes melt more slowly so it takes longer for your drink to become diluted. I just think large cubes are cool.

I’m sure there are some of you who consider me a happy fool. How is one expected to survive with a refrigerator and a home without an automatic ice maker? I may have once felt the same way, though I’ve always had my suspicions about ice maker ice. It can assume a stale scent; whether the smell migrates from the food in the fridge or freezer or from the ice making plumbing I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.

Also, you never know what practical jokes your ice maker has in store. Civilization destroying artificial intelligence is an ever-growing concern but I’d like to propose that it’s already arrived in the form of our iceboxes. Place your glass under the dispenser and you don’t know what’s going to come out. You might get a cascade, a veritable Niagara Falls of cubes, a stream of water, or the dispenser might get jammed and you’ll need to manually help yourself to ice.

A fridge without an ice maker constitutes an unexpectedly lucky turn of events. It has returned an important measure of control to our lives. We’re in charge of the machines, as it should be, rather than the other way around. Besides, if your automatic ice maker is functioning smoothly you’ll just take ice for granted. One should never do that. Frozen water is simply too special.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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