Are your ice 'cubes' actually cubes? Because mine aren't. My ice cubes are rather rectangular, and rounded off on the bottom. Or maybe the top - I can't tell. At any rate, they aren't cubes. In fact, I can't think of anyone whose 'ice cubes' are actually cubes. At restaurants you usually get those little bent disks of ice, which are specially designed to bond together into a single ice mass until you have tilted the glass just enough to ensure that breaking back apart into individual ice cubes will spurt water all over the front of your shirt, at which point they will do just that. Evil? Yes. But not cubes.
My parents' refrigerator makes its ice cubes in a shape I can't even name - sort of long rectangles, only one side is convex like the curve of a banana. These ice cubes tend to dart down your throat every time you take a sip of beverage, like miniature throat torpedoes or suicidal ice fish. I've run across ice donuts, ice wands, ice spheres, and of course ice shaped like things for children to enjoy, such as animals or stars or Shania Twain's head. But never any ice that was actually in the shape of a cube.
My guess is that the nomenclature must date from a time when ice cubes actually were cubes, before people realized that ice units put in drinks worked better when they wouldn't fall neatly into place, tetris-like, leaving no space for the actual beverage.
As a side note, one of the painful memories that I will suck on for the rest of my days is of Harlock and my venture to an Indian restaurant in Berkeley on a particularly baking California day. The ice cubes that they had were little round things, about the size of the nail on your little finger, and through some freakish law of physics actually poured out of the water pitcher faster than the water did. So I, so parched I couldn't sweat, recieved a glass that was 90% ice. It didn't have one thimbleful of water in it. And summoning the waiter to get more water didn't help, because he just poured the glass full with *more ice*, so now it was 95% ice in the glass. Each time I sucked down the less than a mouthful of water in the glass and asked for more, I received less water and more ice in some sort of fractal pattern. It was like being in some Faustian hell, only with papadums.
Perhaps it was suffering this nightmarish fate one too many times that changed people's minds about the desirability of perfectly regular units of ice. Not that I have any real grasp on ice cube history. Obviously, the first non-winter use of ice in beverages ("Just put your tea on the porch, Henry, and it'll get nice and cold") was chipped ice, struck off of ice blocks in the ice house with an icepick. Once, icepicks were a household necessity. Now they are used pretty much solely by serial murderers and people who drink a lot of hard liquor and enjoy being wildly pretentious while they do, e.g. serial murderers.
But as to the first ice cube trays, I'm in the dark. A good contender are those stupid devices where you fill a metal tray with water, then insert an elongated waffle-like device that divides the tray into cubes of water, or at least would if it were anything close to watertight, which it never is. So instead of being able to later remove the metal insert and have a tray full of ice cubes, you wind up with one large ice cube containing a metal insert, like a fly in amber. Doesn't fit in most glasses that well. Not to mention the fact that everyone knows how well ice-cold metal and flesh go together. Yeah, let's make our ice in something that will stick to our flesh better than our flesh sticks to our hands. There's a winner of an idea.
But it would indeed give you ice cubes, rather than ice rectangles. In fact, it might have been simple aversion to using this device, or anything even vaguely reminiscent of it, that led people to stop making ice cubes in the form of cubes, and move to the modern free-form ice cube making. I'd research it, but it sounds pretty boring, so I'm going to declare my hypothesis the truth and leave the burden of disproving it to other people.
As a final note, moving to the East ("PermaSweat") Coast has given me a new appreciation for ice cubes. In California, your refrigerator doesn't have to hold as much, since the dry air won't insta-mold things like bread or oranges. On the other, lesser, coast, this isn't the case; anything even vaguely perishable - lemons, garlic cloves, cutting boards - has to go into the fridge, or it will become a Ghanan rainforest diorama overnight. Because of this, many of your beverages, particularly soda pop, no longer fit inside. Thus ice cubes become significantly more important.
As an even more final note, here's some good advice. Keep four ice cube trays - two you use regularly, and two "back-up" trays you hide in the freezer and use when guests come. It's like backing up your pair of six-shooters with a sleeve derringer and a stiletto at your ankle - you almost never use them, but when you need them, you really need them. Party guests are not impressed with warm drinks.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra