by Cathi Gerhard
There are lots of stories that say ice cream was brought back to Europe by Marco Polo on one of his trips from the Far East. Others claim Catherine de Medici introduced it first to France upon her marriage to the duc d’Orléans, the future King Henri II of France in 1533. However, written texts indicate that its origins date back much farther … to BC times, in fact. Despite the fact that refrigeration is a modern invention, man had been enjoying frozen treats for over 4,000 years.
It is known that “Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar; Biblical references also show that King Solomon was fond of iced drinks during harvesting. During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar (A.D. 54-86) frequently sent runners into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices.1”
The ancient Chinese ate a frozen dessert which may have been more of a syrup than a frozen cream. According to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in her History of Food2, “They poured a mixture of snow and saltpeter over the exteriors of containers filled with syrup, for, in the same way as salt raises the boiling-point of water, it lowers the freezing-point to below zero.”
An alternative recipe called for milk, overcooked rice, and spices which were hardened in packed snow. They also developed fruit ices by adding honey and other spices.
These treats were introduced to the Persian Empire (countries now known as Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and portions of western China and northern Iraq) through trade routes over 2,500 years ago. The website Nibble.com details their adaptations:
• The Persians drank syrups cooled with snow called (“fruit ice” in Arabic, thus the derivation of sherbet, sorbet and sorbetto); the Greek Alexander the Great, who battled the Persians for 10 years before finally toppling the Persian Empire in 330 B.C.E., enjoyed fruit “ices” sweetened with honey and chilled with snow. Three centuries later, Emperor Nero’s famous banquets always included fruit juices mixed with honey and snow.
• In addition, around 400 B.C., the Persians invented a dessert made of rosewater and vermicelli that was a cross between a sorbet and a rice pudding called faludeh. The ice was mixed with saffron, fruits and other flavors. Today, rosewater, lemons and angel hair-thin wheat noodles are still made into a sorbet, which is a favorite dessert and party food.
• Sorbetti and pasta arrived in Italy with the Arab invasions of Sicily in the 8th century (the Marco Polo story is a myth—see the history of pasta). Italian granita was born, flavored with fresh citrus, a wide range of fruits and coffee.
Gelato, the forefather of modern ice cream, was invented by Bernado Buontalenti, a Florence architect, in the 1500’s. From there, its popularity spread throughout the rest of Europe among Italian Duchess Catherine de Medici and other wealthy royals. Charles I served “cream ice” regularly during the 17th century.
Ice cream was not made available to the general (but wealthy) public until 1660, when Sicilian Procopio introduced a recipe blending milk, cream, butter and eggs at Café Procope, the first café in Paris.
“Like most new foods—tea, coffee, sugar, chocolate—ice cream was for the first one or two hundred years a pleasure of the wealthy,” The Nibble .com explains. “Only they could afford to purchase ice that was cut in the winter and stored underground to make ice cream in the warmer months. Only the wealthy had chefs who knew the secrets of making ice cream and staff to undertake the labor. Refined sugar also was very expensive.”
It took the better part of a day to make a batch of ice cream, which had to be served immediately due to the lack of refrigeration.
Ice Cream Comes to America
William Black, a Scottish colonist, first wrote about ice cream in a 1744 letter after visiting the home of Maryland Governor Willam Bladen. He was served a “rarity” of strawberry ice cream for dessert.
The first advertisement for ice cream in America was printed in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1777 by confectioner Philip Lenzi, who announced that ice cream was available “almost every day.” Records from a Chatham Street merchant in New York verify that George Washington himself purchased around $200 (valued today at $5,340)3 worth ice cream during the summer of 1790. An inventory of his home at Mount Vernon show that he also owned two pewter ice cream pots.
“To make ice cream. Take two pewter basons, one larger than the other; the inward one must have a close cover, into which you are to put your cream, and mix it with raspberries, or whatver you like best, to give it a flavour and a colour. Sweeten it to your palate; then cover it close, and set it into the larger bason. Fill it with ice, and a handful of salt: let it stand in this ice three quarters of an hour, then uncover it, and stir the cream well together: cover it close again, and let it stand half an hour longer, after that turn it into your plate. These things are made at the pewterers.”
– The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse, facsimile of the first edition, 1747 [Prospect Books: Devon] 1995 (p. 168)
Contemporary Thomas Jefferson was known for a keen interest in the culinary arts, bringing back several recipes from France. The Library of Congress has a recipe for vanilla ice cream written by Jefferson (page 9); a recipe for savory cookies, to be served with it, appears on the reverse of the paper. Ice cream continued to be a dessert of the elite, being served at such functions as the inaguration banquet of President James Madison in 1813, where his wife, Dolly Madison, served strawberry. A survey of period cookbooks indicates that fruit creams were the most popular, providing for a wide variety of flavors.
“To make Ice Cream. Pare, stone, and scald twelve ripe apricots, beat them in a fine marble mortar. Put to them six ounces of double-refined sugar, a pint of scalding cream, work it through a hair sieve. Put it into a tin that has a close cover, when you see your cream grow thick round the edges of your tin, stir it, and set it again till all grows quite thick. When your cream is to be turned out of, then put on the lid. Have ready another tub with ice and salt in as before, put your mould in the middle and lay your ice under and over it, let it stand four or five hours. Dip your tin in warm water when you turn it out. If it be summer you must not turn it out til the moment you want it. You may use any sort of fruit if you have not apricots, only observe to work it fine.”
–The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth Raffald, facsimile 1769 edition with an introduction by Roy Shipperbottom [Southover Press:East Sussex] 1997 (p. 126) [NOTE: Mrs. Raffald’s other fruit cream (nonice) recipes employ lemon, raspberry, and orange. She also offers recipes for pistachio and chocolate cream.]
By the early 1800s, the invention of the insulated ice house and the affordability of sugar brought ice cream closer to the other classes. In 1843, Nancy M. Johnson of New York invented and patented the handcranked ice cream maker, replacing the pot freezer method which took several hours. Her churn decreased the preparation time to 45 minutes, producing a smoother ice cream.
The ice cream manufacturing industry was born in 1851 when Jacob Fussell, a Baltimore milk dealer, built the first factory in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania. York County dairy farmers produced a surplus of milk and cream due to an unstable demand, and the nearby Northern Central Railroad provided easy access to the Baltimore market. He soon opened more factories after moving operations to Baltimore, and the mass production of ice cream made it more affordable to the masses. Fussell also opened ice cream parlors as far west as Texas.
The next “Big Thing” to hit the ice cream industry was the invention of industrial refrigeration by Carl von Linde of Germany in the 1870’s. His research there on heat theory as a faculty member at the Polytechnic in Munich led to his invention of the first reliable and efficient compressed-ammonia refrigerator. Through the new company he formed, refrigeration rapidly displaced ice in food handling and transformed many industrial processes. In 1894 Linde installed refrigeration at the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland.
In 1902, he was the first person to extract oxygen from the air and contain it in mass quantities. This commodity was sold and used in hospitals, for rocket fuel, and to invent the oxyacetylene torch (France in 1904), “which revolutionized metal cutting and welding in the construction of ships, skyscrapers, and other iron and steel structures” (chemheritage.org). Out of the many patents and companies formed by Linde, several combined with Linde Air Products Co. to become Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation.
Other advances of the ongoing industrial age such as steam power, homogenization, electricity and motorized vehicles led to even more ice cream “revolutions.” The American soda fountain was born in 1874, along with the Ice Cream Soda – invented in Philadelphia by Robert McCay Green, operator of a soda fountain at the Franklin Institute’s semicentennial celebration. Some say he simply ran out of ice for sodas and used ice cream instead. Green reported (as published in Soda Fountain magazine in 1910) that he wanted to attract customers from a fancier soda fountain up the street by offering a combination of vanilla ice cream and soda water and a choice of 16 different flavored syrups. However, there are at least three other claimants for the invention of ice cream float: Fred Sanders, Philip Mohr, and George Guy, one of Robert Green’s own employees4.
In 1888, celebrated English culinary entrepreneur Agnes Marshall published Miss Marshall’s Cookery Book in which she included a recipe for “cornets with cream,” the first Ice Cream Cone. Dubbed the “Queen of Ices” during the Victorian period for her work with frozen desserts, she also patented and manufactured an ice cream maker, and was the first person to suggest using liquefied gases to freeze ice cream after seeing a demonstration at the Royal Institution of Great Britain5. The popularity of ice cream cones spread following the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904. According to legend, an ice cream vendor ran out of paper cups and joined forces with the waffle vendor next to him. They rolled the thin waffles into cones and filled them with ice cream, creating a worldwide sensation.
There have been several assertions as to the birthplace of the first Ice Cream Sundae in the late 1890’s.
“As for the specific birthplace of the dish, two possibilities emerge as the most likely among many contenders. Neither place can offer conclusive dates, so one can pick between, “Heavenston” (favored by the National Dairy Council, among others) and Two Rivers (championed by such diverse sources as the old Ice Cream Review and H.L. Mencken in his American Language). The first claim goes back to the 1890s in Evanston, Illinois (then widely known as “Chicago’s Heaven” or “Heavenston”), where civic piety had reached such a state that it became the first American community to recognize and legislate against the “Sunday Soda Menace.” This prompted confectioners to create Sundays so that they could do business on the Sabbath. Ironically the soda was later given a strong boost from this community when the Evanston-based Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) championed it as a pleasant alternative to alcoholic drinks. The Two Rivers, Wisconsin, claim goes back to the same era…was created when a youth named George Hallauer went to Ed Berner’s soda fountain for a dish of ice cream. As the ice cream was being scooped, the daring Hallauer spied a bottle of chocolate syrup normally used in sodas and asked Berner to pour some of it over his ice cream. Berner sampled the concoction and liked it enough to begin featuring “ice cream with syrup” in his shop for the same price as a dish of ice cream. The name sundae was give to the dish when George Giffy, an ice cream parlor proprietor in nearby Manitowoc, was forced by customer demand to serve the popular Berner concoction. Giffy was convinced that the nickel dish would put him out of business and at first served it only as a Sunday loss leader. In Manitowoc it soon became known as “the Sunday.” Giffy found that he was making money on the dish and began advertising his “Ice Cream Sundaes,” with the spelling changed so that it would lose its Sunday-only association. Regardless of the origin, by 1900, midwestern soda-fountain supply salesmen were carrying samples of tulip-shaped “Sundae Specials.”
– The Great American Ice Cream Book, Paul Dickson [Atheneum: New York] 1972 (p. 64-6)
1 “The History of Ice Cream.” The International Dairy Foods Association website, www.IDFA.org
2 Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, History of Food, translated by Anthea Bell, Barnes & Noble Books: New York, 1992 (pp. 749-50)
3 A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the relative value is $5,340.00. This answer is obtained by multiplying $200 by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index from 1790 to 2014. (www.measuring worth.com)
4 See References listings on https://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/Ice_cream_float, or the detailed article “Who Really Invented theIce Cream Soda” at http://mentalfloss.com/article/64970/who-really-invented-icecream-soda.
5 David, Elizabeth (1994). Harvest of the Cold Months: the Social History of Ice and Ices. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-017641-1.