Glace plombières literally means ‘female plumber’s ice’. Its origins, like so many French desserts, is a mix of stories, some perhaps truer than others.
Café Tortoni in Paris was famous for its frozen desserts, many of which were made in lead moulds called plombières. They made it into French literature by 1847:
At the end of the meal ices were served, of the kind called plombieres. As everybody knows, this kind of dessert has delicate preserved fruits laid on the top of the ice, which is served in a little glass, not heaped above the rim. These ices had been ordered by Madame du Val-Noble of Tortoni, whose shop is at the corner of the Rue Taitbout and the Boulevard. Balzac, The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans
On 20 July 1858, Plombières-les-Bains, a resort town in the Vosges, was the host of a secret meeting between Emperor Napoleon III and Italy’s foreign minister, Count Cavour, where they agreed that France would go to war against Austria in the fight for Italian unification—in exchange for giving France Nice and part of Savoy.
Legend has it the dignitaries were served the current version of plombières when the chef’s custard collapsed. Working with what he had to hand, he mixed kirsch and almond extract into cream, topped it with candied fruit and froze it, et voilà.
Image by Marianne Casamance, Creative Commons License