17

I'm only halfway through Game of Thrones (the book), and when I was reading last night, I got really caught up in the practicalities of this particular issue. From what I've read, this series takes place in a pre-industrialized world (no guns, electricity, refrigeration, etc.). Then I read this, on page 250 of the chapter Eddard:

Grand Maester Pycelle is talking to Ned "...Wine no longer agrees with my digestion, I fear, but I can offer you a cup of iced milk, sweetened with honey. I find it most refreshing in this heat.”

There was no denying the heat; Ned could feel the silk tunic clinging to his chest. Thick, moist air covered the city like a damp woolen blanket, and the riverside had grown unruly as the poor fled their hot, airless warrens to jostle for sleeping places near the water, where the only breath of wind was to be found.

And then

Ned sipped politely at the iced milk. It was pleasantly cold...

So how is this possible? I was under the impression that it took them days to get from The Trident to King's Landing, and even longer to get from Winterfell to The Trident, so it's not like someone can just bring some ice down to the big city when they need it. And without refrigeration they surely can't keep ice frozen for long if it's sweltering outside.

  • 1
    Just because there's a lot of ice and snow in Winterfell doesn't mean that it's the closest ice and snow to King's Landing. I'm pretty sure there's some other mountains nearby but I'd have to check a map. – Tacroy Feb 14 '13 at 0:18
  • That's true. I'm looking at the map in the first book, and it looks like there are some mountains south of King's Landing - The Dornish Marshes - but they would still have to cross Kingswood which looks like only a slightly shorter distance than The Trident. – Zoe Feb 14 '13 at 0:26
26

From what I've learned, and knowing that during my grandmother's days, this is how they actually did it, people cut the ice from lakes during winter and stored it packed in hay. I've never heard of anyone climbing mountains to get ice, but then there is a dearth of good "ice mountains" in my part of the world.

In my grandmother's days, they took blocks of ice and placed them in cupboards with heavy wooden walls, which thereby became refrigerated. It was a means to make milk and meat and other fresh goods last longer.

Ice can last surprisingly long when packed in insulating material. However, if it could possibly last during multi-year summers, I do not know. Presumably, someone in Westeros has succeeded.

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    Many a country house (not necessarily that of a noble) would have an ice house: a special cellar for holding ice. Deep in the ground, conical (so any melt water drained away) with limited access to keep it cold. – Richard Feb 14 '13 at 12:48
16

Ice during summer was possible (if expensive) prior to modern refrigeration technology. Usually it required someone climbing up a mountain (think the Alps and not Mt. Everest) and hoofing it back down with 100 pounds of ice on his back. This was best accomplished at night for obvious reasons, and it could take the better part of one.

Then, it would be stored in a cellar away from light and heat. It might only last a day or two, but if you're a big fancy king of the realm and all that you can afford such things.

The making of ice cream was even known in these times. Napoleon Bonaparte himself was rather fond of it, I believe. Pretty much the modern process to make it (an outer container filled with chipped ice and salt, an inside container with ingredients that was stirred).

This Straight Dope article touches on the subject. The Wikipedia article also gives a brief overview.

  • 14
    Actually they used to pack it in straw, and keep it in cellars, and it usually lasted a lot longer than a few days - months, in fact. – Daniel Roseman Feb 14 '13 at 1:28
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    This is a somewhat ludicrous claim, that people climbed mountains for ice, sounds like something Grampa Simpson would say. Do you have a source for it? As far as I know, Ice is cut from lakes during winter and packed and stored lasting years. – TLP Feb 14 '13 at 8:42
  • @TLP: Just a few days ago I saw a documentary about a guy who's still doing that somewhere in the Andes. He's the last, but says that in his youth there were dozens of men leading caravans of mules and donkeys. – Michael Borgwardt Feb 14 '13 at 9:09
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    @TLP: ah, here it is: geographical.co.uk/Magazine/Ice_Man_-_Feb_12.html – Michael Borgwardt Feb 14 '13 at 9:12
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    People used to ship huge quantitiesin Victorian times. A boat with a hold full of ice packed in straw doesn't melt very easily at all! – Nick Feb 14 '13 at 9:36
6

In addition to the sources of ice indicated in the other answers it is possible that "iced" is not being used to literally mean with the addition of ice but rather just as "chilled".

If this is the case, natural cold water springs can be used to chill items considerably below ambient temperatures. Spring houses (small stone structures built over a natural cold water spring) were a common means of refrigeration in the eastern U.S.

6

Ice in the warmer climate of Kings Landing is far from fantastic (though perhaps the misguided notion of harvesting it from mountaintops is). In the 1800's, Frederic Tudor founded the ice trade, exporting blocks of ice from frozen Massachusetts lakes to as far away as India and Australia.

New England became the refrigerator for the world, with ice shipments to the Caribbean, the coast of South America and Europe. Tudor even reached India and China.

Watching the ice cutters working Walden Pond, Henry Thoreau marveled that water from his bathing beach was traveling halfway 'round the globe to end up in the cup of an East Indian philosopher.

[...]

Tudor's success was based on an extraordinary physical property of ice. It takes the same amount of heat to melt a block of ice as it does to heat an equivalent quantity of water to around 80 degrees Celsius. This meant that ice took a long time to melt, even when shipped to hotter climates.

— NOVA: Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold (transcript)

Even with the crude insulation of the time, in the 1850s, only 150 out of 400 tons of ice shipped from the USA to Australia were lost to melting. Kings Landing seems like a fraction of that distance from the colder north (probably a bit north of White Harbor) where frozen ponds could be harvested. Maybe it's even a source of revenue for the Night's Watch.

-2

It don't think any of the other answers have much credibility.

Ice was created by endothermic chemical reactions for hundreds of years, since at least the creation of gun powder. Water mixed with ammonia nitrate or potassium chloride (and several other chemicals) can take heat enough to cause freezing. Only the extreme rich would have had sufficient chemicals to do it.

Ice encased completely in ceramics could last days/weeks, especially if buried in cool streams. But years? No way.

As for carrying ice down mountains.... Doubtful. Any wagon would be lucky to travel 20 to 30km in a day. So you would need close mountains with permafrost... Nothing like that near kings landing?

  • 4
    Well as many have already told you, ice lasts a long time when insulated. In Victorian times Norwegian ice was brought by boat to London and kept in huge ice-wells. Large blocks would be cut off and delivered to butchers, dairies and the like with an ice wagon delivering smaller chunks to people's houses. I'm sure something similar could happen in Kings Landing. – TheMathemagician Mar 7 '13 at 10:46
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    ice was an important export product of several northern areas into the 19th century, being shipped as far as from northern Europe to northern Africa – jwenting Mar 7 '13 at 12:31

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