For American’s, ice cream is one of our favorite desserts. Who doesn’t remember going to an ice cream stand on a warm summer night ready to make what seemed to be the most important decision of the day; what flavor should I have? With all the nostalgia around ice cream, it is surprising to learn that it did not start in the US, not to mention the origins started long before the thought of the New World.
The concept of ice cream goes back to the time of Alexander the Great (356-323BC). The ruler would often enjoy snow flavored with nectar and honey. The Roman Emperor Nero (37-68AD), like Alexander, continued with the tradition of the snowy treat. He had snow and ice brought down from the mountains, stored in a special room in his palace, to enjoy with nectar, fruit pulp and honey. It was after this time that this concept made its way to China. The Emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) refined the icy dessert with the addition of milk, flour for thickening, and a natural flavor from evergreen trees. It is said that the famous Venetian Explorer, Marco Polo (1254-1324 AD) tried a version of the treat during an exploration. Polo liked it so much; he brought the idea back to his native Italy. What is not to like about this guy... he liked to eat, and play hid and seek! Though historians question that Polo was involved with ice cream in the west, we do know that the dessert was certainly in Italy by the 13th century, most likely a result from the spice trade. The spice trade had opened up from the East, and Italy was a hub for the trade route. Italian Catherine de ‘Medici (1519-1589 AD) organized an event in Florence asking the people to create the most interesting and unusual dish they had ever seen. A chicken farmer from Florence, Ruggeri, won the event with his frozen ice cream treat. Medici would go on to marry the future King of France, Henry II, and with her new chef Ruggeri in tow, introduced ice cream to France.
American's first tried ice cream in the 1700s, however since it was such a rare and exotic dessert only those with status and wealth would indulge. Colonists were the first to use the term "ice cream", which came from the phrase "iced cream", which was a description of the process. The very popular English cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, in 1747 was widely used in the new world and she included a recipe for the icy dessert sweetened with raspberries. Ice cream had some very aristocratic fans, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Both leaders often served ice cream to their guests. According to records kept by a merchant in New York, George spent approximately $200 (today’s money) for ice cream during the summer of 1790. Jefferson, the devoted foodie, actually had an 18-step process for making his own version of the ice cream dessert, Baked Alaska. (See his recipe for vanilla ice cream at The Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/tr33b.html#obj36). In 1813, First Lady Dolley Madison created quite the sensation when she served a strawberry creation, a “magnificent pink dome of ice cream” at her husband's second inaugural ball.
Then there was the creation of the ice cream cone. Many are involved, in there own way, but each of them lead to the ultimate success of the cone. Antonio Valvana, an ice cream manufacturer in England, is said to have created an ice cream cone biscuit around 1901. Italo Marchiony, an ice cream vender in New York City, is said to have invented the cone that we are all familiar with and even had it patented in 1903. Yet, the popularity of the cone was not until famous 1904 St. Louis Fair (why famous?… this fair was the start of the hotdog, cotton candy, hamburger…). Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian concession vendor, was making a fried dough type dessert called a zalabia next to an ice cream vender, Arnold Fornachou. Fornachou, one of the 50 ice cream venders at the Fair, was so busy that they ran out of the dishes. Hamwi whipped up a waffle and curled it like a cornucopia for the ice cream customers, it was a match made in dessert heaven. The combination was referred to as the World’s Fair Cornucopia. The success from the Fair encouraged Hamwi to start his own business, the Missouri Cone Company (later known as the Western Cone Company). An inventor from Pittsburgh, PA, Leonard Westling invents and patents in 1909 the cone shaper. In 1924 Carl Taylor from Cleveland patented the ice cream cone rolling machine. That same year, cone production reaches a staggering 245 million.The largest ice cream cone manufacture today is about an hour north of Pittsburgh, in a town called Hermitage. The Joy Cone Company bakes over 1.5 billion cones a year, and ships their edible vessel worldwide.
The world’s love of ice cream is no joke. Annual sales of ice cream in US exceed 6 billion in 2016, which does not include all the other frozen ice cream like desserts. There is no doubt that the US leads the world in ice cream consumption, averaging about 26 liters of ice cream per person, per year. New Zealand is second (23 liters pp), followed by Australia (18 liters pp) and Denmark (9 liters pp). The flavor vanilla makes up 20-29% of ice cream sales, with chocolate coming in a distant second.
The US has many different ice cream restaurants, some better known than others. One of the most popular ice cream parlors in America was Howard Johnsons, which started in the 1920's in Quincy, Massachusetts. "HoJo's", the popular nickname of the restaurant, famously served 28 flavors of ice cream along with their reasonably priced fare. The restaurant had a bright orange pyramid roof, which was brilliant marketing. Once kids, and parents a like, saw the roof from a distance, there would be little doubt that they would not stop for a quick scoop or two. The ice cream flavors included favorites like butter crunch and black raspberry, and of course vanilla. They also introduced flavors that few had experienced in an ice cream, like; peppermint stick, macaroon, lemon stick and fruit salad. The ice cream parlor exploded to a full-blown restaurant chain throughout the US, always serving the crowning jewel, ice cream. Even the famed Jacques Pepin worked at the restaurant in the 1960s, though briefly, he was said to have helped the restaurant chain create their signature menu. Sadly, all but one of the 1000 restaurants remain left, in Lake George, NY.
July is Ice Cream Month; therefore, you should enjoy a few scoops of your favorite flavor during that month. Making your own ice cream is incredibly easy and delicious. However, if you do indulge too much you may suffer from a temporary "Brain freeze" while eating ice cream. When ice cream touches the roof of your mouth, it triggers a reaction, causing blood vessels in the head to dilate. Followed by the person jumping up and down, moaning, and praying the pain to go away. Though this only lasts a few seconds, it feels like eternity. SO enjoy, but enjoy slowly.