I is for Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we ALL scream for ICE CREAM!

                    ice cream cone multi

Iced desserts have been around for thousands of years –  around 400 BCE in the Persian empire, the people mixed mountain snow with saffron, grapes, and rosewater, for a royal treat. Later the Roman Emperor Nero had ice brought down from the mountains and mixed with fruit.

By the 10th century, the Arabs had created a version using dairy products (milk, cream, and yogurt) sweetened with sugar and blended with fruits, nuts, and rosewater.

arabic ice cream [173x131]     sicily [339x161]

The Chinese also had frozen dessert, but the claim that Marco Polo imported the concept from China upon his return to Italy  is apocryphal (just like the story of pasta). Long before Marco Polo set out for China, the Arabs had invaded Sicily and introduced ice cream (as well as sugar, dried pasta, rice, saffron, and raisins) to the region.

Ice cream similar to what we enjoy today was popular since the 18th century in Europe and America. Thomas Jefferson brought back recipes from France, and Dolley Madison served ice cream at her husband’s inaugural ball.

Jefferson [111x173]   Jefferson ice cream

ice cream maker [201x202]

Transporting and storing sufficient quantities of ice to make ice cream and keep it cold made it an expensive treat, but by the early 19th century it was readily available — to those who could afford it.

regency tea shop [236x169]

  ice cream server [220x169]

And not just the basics, either. While researching my novel, I discovered that the famous Gunter’s Tea Shop not only served ice cream to high society patrons of the Regency era, but the flavors were creative and diverse:

regency ices [321x201]

 Front: bergamot and punch ices. Back: Royal Cream, Chocolate, Burnt Filbert, and Parmesan ice cream.

(Check out Historical Foods for more of the delectable concoctions as well as the actual old recipes.)

Ice cream sundaes were invented in the late 19th century, in Buffalo…or maybe Two Rivers, Ithaca, or Evanston…

ice cream sundae1

Already popular in Europe, ice cream cones made their American debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, when a creative vendor formed a waffle into a cone and adding the scoop of ice cream. Around the same time, the banana split was invented.

waffle conebanana split

After World War II, as cheap refrigeration became more common, ice cream got even more popular, widespread, and inexpensive.

There were new flavors, shapes, forms, regional favorites — cones, sandwiches, soft-serve, Popsicles, Dixie cups, Dove Bars, Dilly Bars, Creamsicles (aka 50-50s in California)…

choc fudge cone [184x232]soft swirl [175x233]creamsicle 2 [184x232]


dixie cups [189x115]dilly bar [186x111]sandwich [188x128]

On family road trips, my brothers and I would pester our parents to stop at Howard Johnson’s, fascinated by the 28 flavors. I always got chocolate, though.  Once in a while, I’d go wild and get vanilla fudge ;-p

hojo flavors

Even today, although I enjoy sampling the Bi-Rite’s famous salted caramel, or Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast (cornflakes and bourbon)…or Green Tea-Black Sesame….or Elvis the Fat Years (banana, bacon, peanut butter)….

humphrey flavors   humphrey slocomb

…my ice cream of choice is either a really good dark chocolate, or  genuine vanilla-bean vanilla.

But my real favorite is true Italian gelato – when I lived in Firenze, I couldn’t help but stop on every other corner to admire all the colorful window displays in each gelateria. Each gelateria seemed to try and outdo the others with a fantasy land of ice cream…

gelato waves [228x152] gelato gaudi [228x152]

Voluptuous ripples, delicate scallops, cascades and mounds and swirls, like frozen Gaudi cathedrals!

Gaudi chimney Gaudi bldgs

Chocolate, Kahlua, and lemon (or sometimes orange)  is my favorite 3-way gelato combo.

What are your faves? do you prefer cones or scoops, bars or sandwiches?

Is there a local ice cream shop that serves your favorite?

Or are you happiest with a pint of  Ben & Jerry’s from the corner store?



15 thoughts on “I is for Ice Cream

  1. One of my greatest passions, and weakness, is ice cream. My father worked for Carnation Dairies in the 1940’s and always brought me home samples. I still have terrible cravings for ice cream when I know that I should not give in and pack on more pounds. Great visuals and history lesson. Your blog makes my mouth water. Gordon.

    • Wow, your dad worked for Carnation! Well, remember, you don’t have to resist temptation ENTIRELY, just keep all things in moderation — get a cone, not a quart, of ice cream, to satisfy the occasional craving ;-D

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I learned a lot about ice cream too while I was researching this. The layout is hit or miss, as WordPress isn’t quite as WYSIWYG as it should be ;-p so I’m glad it looks OK 😉

  2. For some reason I’ve never been a huge ice cream fan. Weird, I know. But give me a lemon gelato any day of the week and I’m putty in your hands.

    • I’m the same…I live right around the corner from a San Francisco landmark ice cream shop, Swensen’s, and I’m never tempted to drop by, except maybe once a year on a very hot day. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just never crave it.
      But when I go past a gelateria, well, that requires more will power ;-D

  3. Mmmm. Ice cream=)
    When I was a kid, one of my favorite summertime activities was to sit on the back porch and make ice cream with the old fashioned ice cream maker we had. I LOVED the flavor so much better than any store-bought brand… I wonder if that’s still at the house. I’m gonna have to investigate and maybe bring it home for my kids=)

    I’ve also nominated you for a blog award=) If you’re interested, you can find all the information you need here: http://writingreadingandlife.com/2013/04/13/l-is-for-liebster-an-award-that-is/

    • An actual old-fashioned ice cream maker, how wonderful! I’ve never tasted ice cream made that way.
      The Liebster — that’s a fun ‘award’ — I’ve got it on my to do list ;-D Thanks for stopping by ;-D

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