We all Scream for Ice Cream!
For Americans, ice cream is one of our favorite desserts. Who doesn’t remember going to an ice cream stand on a warm summer's 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 may be surprising to learn that the sweet treat did not originate in America. Ice cream has been made and consumed long before the thought of a New World.
The concept of ice cream goes back to Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). The ruler would often enjoy snow flavored with nectar and honey. Like Alexander, Roman Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) continued with the snowy treat tradition. He had snow and ice brought down from the mountains palace room 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 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. Though historians question Polo's involvement with ice cream in the west, we know that the dessert was undoubtedly in Italy by the 13th century, most likely due to 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 exciting and unusual dish they had ever seen. A chicken farmer from Florence named Ruggeri won the event with his 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.
Americans first tried ice cream in the 1700s; however, since it was such a rare and exotic dessert, only those with status and wealth could indulge. Colonists were the first to use the term "ice cream," which came from the phrase "iced cream," describing the process. The trendy English cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1747), was widely used in the new world, and she included a recipe for the icy dessert sweetened with raspberries. Ice cream also had some aristocratic fans, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Both leaders often served ice cream to their guests. According to records from a merchant in New York, George spent approximately $200 (today’s money) for ice cream during the summer of 1790. Jefferson, the devoted foodie, had an 18-step process for making his 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 their way, but each leads to the cone's ultimate success. 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 vendor 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 the famous 1904 St. Louis Fair (why famous?… this fair was the start of the hotdog, cotton candy, and hamburger…). Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian concession vendor, made a fried dough dessert called a labia next to an ice cream vendor, Arnold Fornachou. Fornachou, one of the 50 ice cream vendors at the Fair, was so busy that they ran out of 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 of 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, invented and patented the cone shaper in 1909. In 1924 Carl Taylor from Cleveland patented the ice cream cone rolling machine. That same year, cone production reached a staggering 245 million. Today's largest ice cream cone manufacturer is about an hour north of Pittsburgh, in a town called Hermitage. The Joy Cone Company bakes over 1.5 billion cones annually and ships their edible vessel worldwide.
The world’s love of ice cream is no joke. Annual US ice cream sales exceeded 6 billion in 2016, not including all the other ice cream, like desserts. There is no doubt that the US leads the world in ice cream consumption, averaging about 26 liters 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 America's most popular ice cream parlors was Howard Johnson's, which started in the 1920s 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 alike, 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, black raspberry, and vanilla. They also introduced flavors that few had experienced in ice cream, like; peppermint sticks, macaroons, lemon sticks, and fruit salad. The ice cream parlor exploded into 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 he was said to have helped the restaurant chain create its signature menu briefly. Sadly, only one of the original 1000 restaurants remains 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 ice cream is incredibly easy and delicious. However, if you 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 for the pain to go away. Though this only lasts a few seconds, it feels like an eternity. So enjoy, but enjoy slowly.