One of the key ingredients to a great Knickerbocker Glory is strawberry ice cream. My recipe uses fresh strawberries and cream and is one of the best tasting homemade treats you will ever create.


Knickerbocker Glory - A Personal Viewpoint

As my regular readers will know, I have had a lifelong 'soft spot' for the Knickerbocker Glory - a very special ice cream sundae that I was introduced to as a child on holiday when my father would go looking for an ice cream parlor solely for the purpose of eating this, his favorite, ice cream dessert. I even created my own variation called 'Shelagh's Knickerbocker Glory' which you can make for yourself - just follow my guidelines in the web page via the link above.

I have often wondered as to the origins of the Knickerbocker Glory but, until recently, had 'Shelagh's Knickerbocker Glory'discovered only a few possible clues. I know for certain that it was a popular dessert first enjoyed in the 1930s - corroborated both by my father who remembers it as a boy and by my good friend Mary Spain, the English writer and poet, who can recall her father having the same fondness for the dessert in the same era. But where did the name come from? No-one seems to know for sure. Having searched extensively on the Internet and found no solid evidence, I have been on the lookout for a long time for new resources that might help me piece together the truth. To be honest, it's something of a quest for me and I relish any potential opportunity to learn more. It was this 'relish' that led me to a new theory and to writing this article.

I was watching a documentary about the tragedy of the Titanic in 1912 and in the biographical detail of John Jacob Astor IV, who sadly did not survive the sinking, it was revealed that he owned The Knickerbocker Hotel in New York. Suddenly my interest doubled - the word "Knickerbocker" rarely crops up in anything historical. Could it be there was a connection somewhere?

So I went off on this new tack, did some research and here's what I found:

  • The Knickerbocker Hotel became synonomous with luxury despite a relatively brief history of just 15 years (opened 1906, closed 1921).
  • It boasted a world-class restaurant and bar.
  • It enjoyed patronage from many of the wealthy and famous of that era including John D. Rockerfeller and Enrico Caruso, the latter having lived there as a resident until his death (also 1921).
  • The hotel's exterior is unique and eye-catching - a facade of red brick in French renaissance style and a copper mansard roof with railings and terracotta detail.

Could there be a possible connection to the Knickerbocker Glory ice cream sundae from any of these facts? Well, it could be a long shot but I think it's possible and here's why ....

The Knickerbocker Glory ice cream sundae first became popular in the 1930's - a time of hardship for many people (the crash of 1929 etc) and also a time of nostalgia when many reflected upon the pre-WWI days of optimism and opulence when hotels like The Knickerbocker were being built; effectively the glory days for many people. With The Knickerbocker Hotel closing in 1921, it would also have been a fairly recent and strong memory for people in the 1930's. Imagine then an enterprising ice cream parlor or restaurant owner looking to offer customers something new to brighten their day and remind them of 'the good old days'. The answer? An indulgent ice cream sundae whose colors and different layers and textures of ingredients reflected the wonderful, varied exterior of The Knickerbocker Hotel.

In my experience, a traditional Knickerbocker Glory contains strawberry ice cream and vanilla ice cream, jelly, whipped cream, a sweet sauce (peach melba or other) and a cherry to top it all off. Based on this, the analogy of the sundae with the hotel looks something like this:

  • strawberry ice cream could represent the hotel's red brick facade
  • vanilla ice cream for the contrasting mansard roof
  • whipped cream, jelly, sweet sauce and red cherry could represent the elaborate decorative detailing on the hotel's roof

A totally symbolic ice cream dessert and one whose name would be easily remembered for its connection with what was undoubtedly one of the world's finest hotels where the rich and famous indulged themselves. This could explain the 'Knickerbocker' part of the sundae's name but what about the 'Glory' bit? Well, "The Star-Spangled Banner" has the world "glory" in one of the verses - see:

"Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

Enrico Caruso
made a very famous appearance at the window of his room in The Knickerbocker Hotel when he led a crowd outside in singing on Armistice Day. What did they sing? "The Star-Spangled Banner"

I've found nothing to corroborate my theory (as yet) but if nothing else, it fires the imagination. Such is the power of ice cream!

If you've found this article interesting, there's plenty more for you to read on the subject of The Knickerbocker Glory .... Knickerbocker Hotels is just one such page. I hope you enjoy it.