Ice cream has long been a summertime treat for Americans of all kinds – rich and poor, old and young – we all love ice cream! July is National Ice Cream Month, and today (July 1, 2015) is Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day. We thought we’d start the month by exploring where ice cream came from and how it became such a symbol of American life. The answers are chilling.
(See what we did there?)
The history of ice cream is more than a little messy. There are many nations that claim to have invented it and various individuals have attempted to take credit for it. The simple truth is that no one really knows who invented ice cream first.
There are reports that as far back as A.D. 54 – 68, iced desserts were a luxury, enjoyed by royalty like Roman Emperor Nero. It’s said that he sent his slaves into the mountains to fetch snow to mix with nectar, fruit pulp, and honey.
More believable reports indicate that ice cream’s beginnings date to China’s T’ang period. Food historians believe that this was likely a dish for the country’s rulers at the time. The founder of the dynasty, King T’ang of Shang, kept 94 “ice men” on hand to pull ice to the palace and make a dish made of koumiss (heated, fermented milk), flour, and camphor.
Years later, Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled what is now called sherbet. Historians estimate that this recipe evolved into ice cream sometime in the 16th century. England seems to have discovered ice cream at the same time, or perhaps even earlier than the Italians. “Cream Ice,” as it was called, appeared regularly at the table of Charles I during the 17th century. France was introduced to similar frozen desserts in 1553 by the Italian Catherine de Medici when she became the wife of Henry II of France. It wasn’t until 1660 that ice cream was made available to the general public. The Sicilian Procopio introduced a recipe blending milk, cream, butter and eggs at Café Procope, the first café in Paris.
On may 19, 1744, a group of VIP’s dined at the home of Maryland Governor Thomas Bladen. At dinner that evening was a Scottish colonist who journaled of “a dessert…Among the Rarities of which is was Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most deliciously.” This journal entry marks the first written account of ice cream consumption in the new colonies.
Records kept by a Chatham Street, New York, merchant show that President George Washington spent approximately $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790. Inventory records of Mount Vernon taken after Washington’s death revealed “two pewter ice cream pots.”
President Thomas Jefferson was said to have a favorite 18-step recipe for an ice cream delicacy that resembled a modern-day Baked Alaska. Check out President Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream recipe here.
In 1813, Dolley Madison served a magnificent strawberry ice cream creation at President Madison’s second inaugural banquet at the White House.
Until 1800, ice cream remained a rare and exotic dessert enjoyed mostly by the elite. Around 1800, insulated ice houses were invented.
Until September 9, 1843 ice cream was made by the “pot freezer method.” On this day, Nancy M. Johnson of Philadelphia got her “artificial freezer” patented, containing a tub, cylinder, lid, dasher, and crank. Chances are, you’ve seen this innovative invention if you’ve ever made ice cream at hom.
Manufacturing ice cream soon became an industry in America, pioneered in 1851 by a Baltimore milk dealer named Jacob Fussell. As with other American industries, ice cream production boomed because of technological innovations, including steam power, mechanical refrigeration, the homogenizer, electric power and motors, packing machines, and new freezing processes and equipment. In addition, motorized delivery vehicles dramatically changed the industry. Due to ongoing technological advances, today’s total frozen dairy annual production in the United States is more than 1.6 billion gallons.
Wide availability of ice cream in the late 19th century led to new creations. In 1874, the American soda fountain shop and the profession of the “soda jerk” emerged with the invention of the ice cream soda.
In 1880, Buffalo, NY; Evanston, IL; Two Rivers, WI; and Ithaca, NY all claim to have invented the ice cream sundae. Food historians still aren’t sure where this invention actually took place, but wherever it was innovative! Developed in response to religious criticism for eating “sinfully” rich ice cream sodas on Sundays, ice cream merchants left out the carbonated water and the Ice Cream Sunday was born. The name was eventually changed to “sundae” to remove any connection with the Sabbath.
Believe it or not, grocery stores didn’t start selling ice cream until the 1930’s!
By the start of World War II, ice cream had become such a symbol of America that Mussolini banned it in Italy! Throughout the war, ice cream became an edible symbol of morale. Each branch of the military tried to outdo the others in serving ice cream to its troops.
In 1945, the first “floating ice cream parlor” was built for sailors in the western Pacific. When the war ended, and dairy product rationing was lifted, America celebrated its victory with ice cream. Americans consumed over 20 quarts of ice cream per person in 1946.
In the 1940s through the ‘70s, ice cream production was relatively constant in the United States. As more prepackaged ice cream was sold through supermarkets, traditional ice cream parlors and soda fountains started to disappear.
In recent years, this trend has reversed and specialty ice cream stores and unique restaurants that feature ice cream dishes have surged in popularity. These stores and restaurants are popular with those who remember the ice cream shops and soda fountains of days past, as well as with new generations of ice cream fans.
Now that you know all there is to know about ice cream – how will you make ice cream part of your #healthysnacking? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Leave us a comment below!
Looking for new toppings for your favorite ice cream? We suggest our Freeze Dried Mixed Berry or Freeze Dried Strawberries and Bananas for starters…yum! Grab both and make sure everyone in the family is happy with a Choose Your Own package!
Information for this article was supplied by The Farmer’s Almanac, “History of Ice Cream,” by Mary Bellisa, the Wikipedia entry for ice cream, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) website, Food Timeline.org, and PBS (“Explore the Delicious History of Ice Cream” by Tori Avey).