Ice Cream—An All-American Favorite


Few treats taste more delicious on a hot summer day than an ice-cream cone or an ice-cream sundae! Fortunately, ice cream today is available almost everywhere. It is one of the world’s most popular and nutritious desserts.

The first stage in the development of ice cream probably occurred during the Roman emperor Nero’s reign. Nero sent armies of slaves into the mountains to bring back snow and ice to cool the fruit drinks he liked so well. It’s believed that through the accidental overcooling of a fruit drink, “water ice,” a forerunner of “cream ice,” was discovered. However, with the fall of the Roman Empire, such iced desserts apparently disappeared.

Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Marco Polo returned to Europe from Cathay (China) with, among other things, recipes for water ices. In the 1600s Europeans concocted a dessert made from a mixture of cream, fruit, and spices. A combination of snow, ice, and saltpeter was used to freeze the mixture.

Ice cream as we know it today was probably put on the table for the first time at a banquet given by England’s King Charles I. According to one account, the king’s French chef made a frozen dessert of cream ice that was eaten with delight by the many guests at the banquet. The king was so pleased with the new dessert that he sent a servant to bring the chef to him.

“You have created a masterpiece,” the king told the chef. “It is my wish that the recipe be held a secret forever.”

King Charles meant what he said. He wanted to make sure that the delicacy would never be served anywhere else. He even gave the chef a pension of five hundred pounds a year as an added inducement to keep the secret.

The secret was somehow discovered, though, because ice cream was brought to America in 1700 by the English colonists. Even though it was a homemade item, it was considered a luxury food, and not everyone could afford to make it. By 1777, however, ice cream as a commercial product was advertised by some New York retailers.

Records show that George Washington purchased a machine for making ice cream while he was president. However, ice cream was still a rare delicacy when Dolley Madison first served it to her White House guests in 1811.

In 1851 an enterprising milk dealer, Jacob Fussell, started the first wholesale ice-cream manufacturing plant in Baltimore, Maryland. Still considered a luxury item, ice cream then sold for as much as $1.25 a quart. Fussell eventually opened plants in Washington D.C., and New York City. Today a plaque marks the site of the birthplace of the ice-cream industry at Hillen and Exeter streets in Baltimore. The plaque reads: “On this site Jacob Fussell in 1851 established the first wholesale ice cream factory in the world. This was the foundation of a major American industry devoted to the production of one of the most wholesome nutritious and popular foods.”

As new methods of refrigeration and ice cream freezing were developed, ice cream became available to more and more people. By the early 1900s there were ice-cream parlors all over the country, and traveling ice-cream vendors could be heard calling out, “I scream, ‘Ice cream!’”

Many confections were invented that helped make ice cream an even tastier treat. At the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1879, the ice-cream soda made its debut. It is said that the owner of a concession stand ran out of flavors for his soda water, so he bought some ice cream to melt down and add to the soda for flavoring. However, the customers were coming in so fast that the ice cream didn’t have time to melt. It just floated in the soda. The new drink was praised highly by the customers.

It was thought at first that soda water might be intoxicating. In Evanston, Illinois, a law was passed forbidding the sale of ice-cream sodas on Sunday. A clever drugstore operator decided to omit the soda water and serve just the ice cream and syrup. He called his concoction a “Sunday.” Later the spelling was changed to sundae.

It is claimed that the ice-cream cone was introduced at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. This crispy concoction was an accidental invention of Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant, who was selling a waffle confection called zalabia at the fair. When a neighboring ice-cream stand ran out of dishes, Hamwi suggested using his waffles rolled into cones. The waffle cone with a dollop of ice cream delighted the fairgoers so much that people have been eating ice-cream cones ever since.

The Eskimo Pie was patented in 1921 by C. Nelson of Waukon, Iowa. This was the first of the chocolate-coated ice-cream bars and other ice-cream novelties.

Ice cream processed today usually contains milk, cream, sugar, flavoring, coloring, and stabilizers. Mixing tanks, pasteurizers, homogenizers, freezers, and hardening rooms are used in the manufacture of ice cream. In the United States, the quality of the ingredients as well as the manufacturing process are controlled by food laws.

Americans produce and eat more ice cream than people in any other country. Even though Americans cannot be given credit for inventing ice cream, they certainly can be given credit for making it one of the most popular desserts!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown