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Dame Thatcher

The Iron Lady of Soft Serve

Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday at the age of 87, was one of Britain’s most accomplished, if controversial, politicians and prime ministers. Love her, hate her, there is something that lovers of dairy the world over have to thank her for: Baroness Thatcher, the legend goes, helped invent soft-serve ice cream.

Yes. The prime minister who became known as the Milk Snatcher, was also an ice cream inventor. The Iron Lady of Soft Serve.

Thatcher, before she was a politician, was a research chemist. Then Margaret Roberts, she received a degree in chemistry from Oxford in 1947, and she put it to use first in work at a glue factory, and then with a research job at food manufacturer, J Lyons and Company, a “foodstuff conglomerate” in Hammersmith.

Thatcher’s task in that role? To help figure out a way to whip extra air into ice cream using emulsifiers – so that the ice cream could be manufactured with fewer ingredients, thereby reducing production costs. And so that, additionally, the result could flow from a machine rather than being scooped by hand.

While Thatcher’s exact contribution to the effort remains, in a way that would foreshadow her future political career, a matter of controversy, her team ultimately succeeded. And the work resulted, ultimately, in the swirly stuff we know today as soft serve or soft scoop.

J Lyons’s airy dairy was served from ice cream trucks – under the brand Mr Whippy – in Great Britain. And then, as soft serve is wont to do, it quickly spread.

Despite her work in the field, though, Thatcher didn’t love chemistry. (“I just didn’t like staying in the laboratory that long,” she once explained. “I wanted to have more direct work to do with people.”) But her work in food engineering led to her introduction to Denis Thatcher, then the MD of his family’s chemical and paint company. Denis encouraged Margaret to switch careers – from chemistry to the field that would prove her real, if not her first, love: the law.

Source: Daily Mail and The Atlantic

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