IT has been one of those long and sweaty times when all you can think about is something cooling like ice cream.

And then, take another look at this picture of a young man sitting on a bench beside the River Tees enjoying what looks suspiciously like an ice cream.

The Northern Echo:

Only he’s not eating a cone, or a tub. He appears to be eating an ice cream sandwich, with his ice cream trapped between two wafers. This, apparently, was the preferred method of consumption into the 1960s, and it vied with the cone right into the 1980s.

Man has been trying to eat cool stuff ever since the ancient Greeks mixed honey and fruits with snow and dashed it down the mountains to the markets before it could melt.

Ice cream was really introduced to the masses in our area by Italian immigrants who escaped their poverty-stricken country before the First World War with their secret recipes and who didn’t mind working extremely hard to both make the stuff and to sell it from their carts.

One of Memories’ favourite subjects is the Italian ice cream sellers of yesteryear. In Bishop Auckland in the 20th Century, there were ice cream men called Bonini, Di Palma, Gabriele, Panicca, Panzieri, Rea, Rossi, Santi and Zair. In Darlington, there was Biagioni, Di Duca, Di Luca, Do Mascio, Di Paolo, Giacinto, Iannarelli, Martino, Minchella, Rea, Risetto (aka Anty Richards) and Valente.

Every town, every village had its own Italian icey. Fishburn had Santi. Sedgefield had Capitano and Miele. Most places had a member of the Notarianni family, or a Rea or a Pacitto…

Before the days of refrigerated lorries, ice cream had to be made locally. Ice factories – run in Durham and Darlington by people called “Icy Smith” – delivered large slabs of ice each morning to the ice cream men, who broke it up by hand and packed it with salt around the outside of their ice cream container.

In a metal pail, they mixed fresh milk and eggs, and whisked in custard powder, cornflour, butter, cream and two drops of vanilla essence (the magical Italian ingredient) until the mixture was too stiff to pour.

Then it was boiled up before being ladled into the ice cream container surrounded by ice.

Inside the container were a couple of blades. As the ice cream froze, the container would be rotated – sometimes by a contraption fitted to the bicycle of the ice cream seller – so that the blades sliced up the frozen mixture.

Either on foot, on bike, on motorcycle, or behind a horse or in a specially adapted van, the Italians toured the streets and the villages with their distinctive calls.

The "hokey pokey men" was the general name for these pedlars. It came from their Italian cry of "oche poco" – "oh, how cheap".

Individual hokey pokey men created their own phrases. For example, Alex Martino, who retired from the villages around Darlington in 1965, was known for calling out “Iceee…iceee…”, which was followed by his heavily accented ditty: “"Very, very good for you, ice cream. Tell you mama, it's full of butter, cream and eggs."