Sunday, July 15, 2012

The History of Ice Cream by Alison Henderson

In Part 2 of my paean to ice cream, I thought I might share a bit of the history of America’s favorite dessert. The origins of this frosty treat are hidden in the mists of time, with numerous cultures claiming credit. The ancient Persians poured syrup on snow (more like a snow cone, really), and the Chinese developed a frozen mixture of milk and ice that may, or may not, have been brought to Europe by Marco Polo. Tenth century Arabs produced something closer to our modern dish using milk or cream, sometimes mixed with yogurt, and flavored with rosewater, dried fruits, and nuts.

Here’s a fascinating recipe from Mrs. Mary Eales’s Receipts, published in London in 1718, courtesy of Wikipedia.
To ice cream.
Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; then take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou’d freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten’d; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream.

Ice cream was reportedly brought to the U.S. by Quaker colonists and was sold commercially in shops in pre-Revolutionary America. One history states that Dolley Madison served it at her husband’s inaugural ball in 1813. In 1843, a Philadelphia woman received the first patent for a small hand-cranked ice cream freezer which used an ice and salt method similar to the recipe above but turned the mixture for much faster freezing. Americans’ love affair with ice cream was off and running.

Improvements in refrigeration technology and manufacturing methods have given us an almost endless supply of flavors and variations from sorbets to soft-serve, but our desire remains unslaked. After all, can you ever really have too much ice cream?


Jannine Gallant said...

Oh my goodness, the lengths people went to for icecream! LOL Of course the people eating it probably had servants to do all that work. Fun post, Alison.

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Jannine! It just goes to show the power of ice cream. (And I'm sure you're right about the servants!)