I scream, you scream, we ALL scream for ICE CREAM!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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)…
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
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)….
…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…
Voluptuous ripples, delicate scallops, cascades and mounds and swirls, like frozen Gaudi cathedrals!
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?